by Jacqueline Yallop
Grove Atlantic (e-book)
Obedience is the second novel by British-born writer Jacqueline Yallop: her first was the impressive Kissing Alice. Obedience begins near an end, with three nuns on the point of leaving their convent in rural France. There is Sister Bernard, Sister Therese and Sister Marie. All three women are elderly and frail, facing not only the end of their order, but the end of their lives. The story, it almost goes without saying, is more complex. As the opening chapter relates, Sister Bernard has a past. During the second world war she encounters a German soldier who speaks halting but comprehensible French so there is no mistaking his intent when he asks, 'Do you want to have sex with me, Sister Bernard?' The request is half a threat and half the result of a cruel bet. Sister Bernard's response to losing her virtue is more equivocal, driven by naivety, ignorance, lust and even a smattering of love. As the occupation drags on, Bernard battles with devotion to the divine and the fleshly; in the present, she fears her secret will be revealed. Yallop writes with charged attention to details. An extraordinary novel.