Sunday, 13 May 2018

FROST IN MAY by Antonia White

This is a neatly written novel about a child's life in a convent school.  It is based on the author's own experiences in the early twentieth century, and it is as impressively weird as you hope such a place might be.  They bathe in cloaks, so as not to see their own bodies.  They try to sleep on their backs, with their hands crossed on their chests, so they will be neat if they die in their beds.  They are not allowed to have particular friends.  They are not supposed to enjoy things they are good at. 

Unsurprisingly, the author does not emerge from this unscathed.  In fact, she is pretty well scathed. A  novel she has half completed is confiscated by a nun, and she is expelled.  So terrible does she find this, that she doesn't write again for twenty years, and when she does it is simply to tell this story.  As strange website tells us, she never again felt enjoyment of artistic expression.

I admired the writing here.  It is careful and evocative.  I also enjoyed learning about a long dead world.  And yet somehow I can't say I really liked this book, for all it is so clearly deeply felt.  I guess it is just an example of the sad fact that your own painful experience is often just not all that interesting to others.  A good lesson for us all.

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