“Set in contemporary and World War II France, this is the story of Sister Bernard: her forbidden love, her uncertain faith, and her guilt- ridden past.
A once -bustling convent in the South of France is closing, leaving behind three elderly nuns. Forced, for the first time, to confront the community that she betrayed decades ago, Sister Bernard relives her life during the war.
At thirty, Sister Bernard can hear the voice of God-strident, furious, and personal. When a young Nazi soldier, a member of the German occupying forces, asks her to meet him in the church in secret one evening, she agrees. And so begins the horrifying and passionate love affair that will deafen the heavens and define her life, tempting her into duplicity.”
Thoughts: Obedience by Jacqueline Yallop is really a tale of two stories – one is historical fiction, allowing the reader insight into occupied France during World War II, and the other is contemporary fiction, showcasing the end of an era. Throughout both stories flows Sister Bernard’s history, past and present combining to highlight the lasting impact one moment’s poor decision had on the rest of her life. While Sister Bernard is forced to confront her guilt, the unfolding of her story highlights the true victims and guilty party of those past deeds. A difficult book to describe, Obedience is a compelling read for its brutally honest depiction of convent life, the pressure to conform, and the steps people are willing to take to survive when the world is torn upside-down.
The words “poor decision” when describing Sister Bernard’s life-changing moment is something of a misnomer. Her need to find love overrides every instinct her upbringing and religious life has instilled in her. Indeed, this is the true tragedy, as this need induces her to act before thinking and to take chances when to be caught means almost certain death. What is worse is the fact that her sheltered existence within the convent fails to prepare her for the true circumstances behind the presence of the German soldiers and the cruelty of mankind. Sister Bernard is simply a nun in the wrong place at the wrong time, and her overwhelming need to belong to someone places her in some truly unfortunate, horrific experiences.
Obedience itself is rather jagged in its storytelling. The sections jump from one era to the next with little to no warning or explanation of the current time frame of the story in a given section. The reader is forced to determine whether it is past or present based on certain clues. This does become easier towards the end, when the two scenes are more familiar to the reader, but can be confusing in the beginning of the novel. Similarly, Obedience is one of those novels that does not willingly share its secrets and truths. Rather, the entire story is hazy, almost impressionistic, providing no clear picture of motive, personalities, physical descriptions, or anything else which would add clarity to the truth. Instead, the reader is forced to interpret the hidden secrets, much like someone interprets a painting, based on the sweeping strokes of Ms. Yallop’s pen.
While difficult to describe, Obedience is one novel that sneaks under a reader’s skin. Languid in its storytelling, the story unfolds slowly and yet surprisingly forcefully, compelling the reader to feel the full weight of Sister Bernard’s emotional turmoil. It is a novel that leaves the reader grasping under the weight of the full knowledge of lost opportunities and lost truths.