Benedict Paston, a guest in a Greek monastery, is painting an icon – it is a form of prayer and spiritual cleansing to him. He has to overcome some very nasty experiences. He was in love, he was betrayed, he had to look as his woman was burned at the stake as a witch. Painting an icon, he speaks with Mary Magdalene, a saint who is supposed to help him understand the meaning of his life and find a new purpose. A saint who once was allegedly a whore should understand a sinner best, provide some answers to most difficult questions.
The dialogue with Mary Magdalene let us discover what really happened to Benedict and his beloved Annie, why they had to run away from England and look for happiness in Italy. The times are turbulent, it is fifteenth century, everybody can be accused of being possessed by demons and some people hide under their monk habit murderous or sadistic inclinations.
What I liked:
We are presented two stories in one – there are two parts and two POVs, that of Benedict and of Annie. I really enjoyed such a division as the tale gained so many dimensions and the author managed to show the differences between their way of thinking . Both of these characters are very flawed but also rather likeable. Benedict made many mistakes but had to pay for them time and again. The story of Annie’s disastrous marriage was really heartrending and sometimes hard to swallow, she married such a sadistic, selfish but rich brute and neither her family nor her priest wanted to help her. The fact that Benedict rushed to her help was sweet and moving. Finally, yes, there is a happy ending waiting for you.
I appreciate the fact that the book was so well-researched – the details of the monastic life were rendered in a believable way especially that the author didn’t shun the problem of homosexuality among monks and priests.
What I didn’t like:
The present tense 3rd person limited narration is really not my thing so every paragraph written that way was a shock for my system at first. Also some dialogues between Annie and a nun were too long and almost made me bored. What’s more, the narration was linear only from time to time. All of this made me confused a bit. What purpose it was supposed to serve? In my view it was befuddling and distracting.
A nice, readable novel but not without some faults. I still recommend it to historical fiction fans who don’t mind being led astray by the twists and turns of narration.