Sunday, April 4, 2010

RAview: Sacred Hearts

Sarah Dunant's Sacred Hearts is detailed, lush, slowly unfolding historical fiction. In The Readers Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (which, unfortunately, I had to return to the library before I finished with and is expensive), Saricks devotes a chapter to Women's Lives and Relationships, similar to what many call women's fiction, but this category is not self-contained (i.e., books in other genres are often good for readers who like this type of fiction), and Sacred Hearts is one of them.

The narrative perspective switches between two women in a convent in 16th-century Italy--one a young novice who is in love and was unwillingly sent there by her family, and the other an older nun who provides medical care for the other nuns and comes to grow in dealing with the young woman who seems to be wrecking havoc on the peace of the convent.

Details of early medicine, religious ecstasies, convent life, freedom, convent politics, gardening, explorations of faith. The tone is lush and warm but at times strange, fearful, and suspenseful. Faith is manifest as a sort of creepy magic that may or may not be real [at least to a heathen like me], but there is a sense of comfort and belonging that the convent also evokes--this variable tone likely comes from the two main characters' perspectives.

The best readalike from my own reading is Lisa See's Peony in Love. It shares a theme of young women with no control over their lives taking back a sort of power (albeit self-destructive) by starving themselves. It's rich historical fiction about women and love and feeling lost. The tone of Peony in Love is darker and sadder, and the elements of the supernatural are more pronounced.

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