And Then There Were Nuns by Jane Christmas
Published by Lion Books
21st February 2014
When Colin asks Jane to marry him she joyfully accepts – but then asks him if he would mind waiting for a few months, maybe a year and a half, as she has always wondered if God was calling her to be a nun. Over the course of 18 months, in 2011-2012, she tests out this vocation in a series of religious houses, and we follow her journey and her wonderings. The religious houses she spends time in are based initially in Canada, but then on the Isle of Wight and finally North Yorkshire, and she meets a range of well-realised characters en route, finding both godliness and narrow minded prejudice and inhumanity in all places. What is God calling her to do? Superbly written, very funny, very evocative and very feisty.
The timing was so unbelievably awkward, it was hard to know whether to laugh or cry. In the end, I did neither. I just said, "Yes."
I had dreamed of this moment for six long years (very patiently, I might add, because six years in female terms is like, what, fifty years?). A marriage proposal. Who doesn't love that? Despite having two failed marriages under my Spanx, I remain intractably optimistic about wedlock.
I was visiting my beau, Colin, over Christmas. Our six-year transatlantic relationship had evolved into a contented pattern of visiting each other every three months in our respective countries: England (him) and Canada (me). The subject of marriage had been broached several times in the intervening years (by me), but it had hit a sticking point - specifically, a complete lack of interest (by him).
So here we were in a guest room of a seventeenth-century village pub in rural Essex. It was a bright Boxing Day morning, and a thin crust of frost shimmered on the surrounding fields. I was absorbed in a near-commando-type mission to find a missing earring. How does an earring so easily disappear? It was on this table a minute ago.
Colin was gathering up our bits and bags in preparation for check-out. From the corner of my eye I saw his lean, lanky frame methodically checking drawers and closets to ensure nothing was left behind. He is a quiet man by nature, but he was more so this day, and I assumed he was perturbed that I was taking so long to get organized.
Ah, there it is! "Found it!" I said triumphantly, as I plucked the earring from its hiding spot beneath the corner of a clock radio. I whispered a prayer of thanks and hooked it into my lobe.
Suddenly, Colin grabbed one of my hands. "I'm ready now; sorry to have taken so long," I said, trying to wrench my hand from his so that I could get my coat. But he wouldn't let go. When I turned to face him, he was on the floor. On bended knee.
Oh dear, has he stumbled? I yanked on him arm to help him up, but he resisted, pulling me toward him instead. This tug-of-war went of for a few seconds until I noticed his smiling blue yes gazing up at me through a fringe of gray-flecked ginger hair.Uh-oh! My heart raced, my face flushed. I saw a small velvet box bloom from his unfurling hand as Colin said softly, "Will you marry me?"
I stood in a state of ecstatic disbelief, one hand holding his hand (more for balance now), the other covering my mouth as I blubbered like a schoolgirl, "Yes!"
And this is where the awkward-timing aspect came into play, because moments earlier I had been rehearsing in my mind how to tell Colin that I had decided to become a nun.
Okay, so hands up, this is not my usual read. For starters, it has a cheery yellow cover, and no murders are committed within its 304 pages, but the title is a play on one of my favourite Agatha Christie books so I had to read it, didn't I?!
It's a simple enough plot - girl meets boy, boy proposes, girl decides she wants to become a nun. After Colin's shock proposal, Jane tells him of her intention, and he gives her 18 months to make up her mind. We then follow Jane around a number of religious houses, on both sides of the Atlantic, to see if the cloistered life is the one for her.
This is a well-written book, and it is amusing. It's not heavy on the religious aspects; there's no preaching involved, just a general telling of every day life for the monks and nuns that she meets on her 'journey'. It's a lifestyle that many of us are probably not familiar with, and I was fascinated with the stories that Jane tells, and of the people still seeking out this way of life today. I read it in a couple-of-days and really enjoyed it. As to whether Jane chooses a life with God or with Colin though, I couldn't possibly reveal - you'll have to read the book for yourself!