12 June 2013

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden, Book review

Publisher: Little, Brown (June 1939)
ISBN-13: 978-9997411303


High in the Himalayas near Darjeeling, the old mountaintop palace shines like a jewel. When it was the General's 'harem' palace, richly dressed ladies wandered the windswept terraces; at night, music floated out over the villages and gorges. Now, the General's son has bestowed it on an order of nuns, the Sisters of Mary.

Well-intentioned yet misguided, the nuns set about taming the gardens and opening a school and dispensary for the villagers. They are dependent on the local English agent of Empire, Mr Dean; but his charm and insolent candour are disconcerting. And the implacable emptiness of the mountain, the ceaseless winds, exact a toll on the Sisters.When Mr Dean says bluntly, 'This is no place for a nunnery,' it is as if he foresees their destiny...

Here are my thoughts:

Set against the beguiling Himalayan landscape, this riveting story of a dedicated group of nuns establishing St Faith 's convent, school, and clinic remains a classic. 
First published in 1939, its original script later turned into a successful movie, Black Narcissus is still an example of extremely well thought prose and we owe it to notable author Rumer Godden

Blessed with a brilliant ability to describe the intricacy of human emotions against beautiful exotic landscapes, Ms. Godden gave us a novel to pit our mind against! There is nothing left unturned in her almost guileless plot, yet all is barred, most particularly souls. The reader is eagerly looking to turn another page!

Whomever thought all nuns look alike has never read this story! Here under the discerning eye of the author we discover passion, fear, dislike and even revenge. As the plot progresses, these women of faith starts to question their reason for being in this strange and faraway land, leaving them literally on a precipice.

Every depth of emotion described allows the reader to imagine the limited and at times dangerous environment this group of women face as they fight to establish their work in a claustrophobic and inauspicious if beautiful, setting. 
Under the habit, each nun's character comes to unravel, and soon the magnificent mountain looming over the convent becomes all too powerful, the energy seemingly seeping from each one of them, their whole reason for being there questioned, the very people whom they have come to help turning on them. 
In Black Narcissus, Godden intuitively balances the spiritual and mystical aspects of religious life along with its daily reality.

My first novel by Rumer Godden (OBE), a recommendation of Mystica, and not my last! This novel is not to be missed by anyone interested in good classic literature and I give it 5 stars

About the Author:

'Rumer Godden was born in Sussex in 1907 but, at six months old, was taken out to India where her father ran a Steam Navigation company so that she and her three sisters spent most of their childhood on the banks of the great rivers of Assam and Bengal (now Bangladesh) where they lived in Narayangunj, a jute trading town.

They had a halcyon childhood. "I always thank God" wrote Rumer "that we did not have sensible parents". This childhood time gave her real love of India that is so obvious in her writing.
She could never remember a time when she did not write. There were no libraries or schools or bookshops in this remote place so the sisters wrote their own. It was a good thing their father said that there were plenty of wastepaper baskets in the house...'

For more on this interesting author visit her website (HERE)

As always, remember that unless stated otherwise, reviews and opinions reflected are personal only!


  1. I am so glad you liked this book Noelle. It was a wonderfully descriptive novel.

  2. I totally agree Mystica, thanks again for the 'hint'! I have seen the movie in fact (long, long ago) and was surprised how much I remembered! I went ahead and requested the DVD loan at the local library and will now see how close the book is to the script!
    Hoping you are having a wonderful time with the family Down Under!


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