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Obedience by Jacqueline Yallop

(Atlantic Books, $29.99)When a young nun forsakes her vows to embark on a torrid love affair with a morally bankrupt soldier, the scene is set for a gripping tale of lust and betrayal.

This overtly scandalous premise is treated gently by author Jacqueline Yallop, with an even hand and far less judgement of her wayward protagonist, Sister Bernard, than the character allows herself.

obedience opens in rural France during present time, as three sisters prepare to leave the shelter of their convent to live in a rest home.

The nuns pack up the minutiae of their lives, ruing their imminent departure from their spiritual and physical haven of many decades, set to be cast out into the real world.

While these intimate, behind-closed-door moments are tender and telling, the guts of this story are revealed when the action rewinds to World War II.

our anti-heroine Sister Bernard is struck dumb by a German soldier, who is a member of the occupying force in her town. The soldier seduces her as part of a bet and the unknowing Sister Bernard’s fate is cast.

The pair embark on a relationship of sorts, with Sister Bernard turning her devotion from her God to her soldier.

While Bernard’s betrayal is at first only to her faith, in an act of blind love and desperation she turns her back on one of her own, with tragic consequences.

From the quiet whispers of convent life to the clamour of war, obedience is stunning in its simplicity, with a touch of the divine.

There’s no greater evidence  of this than in the character of Sister Bernard. While her naivety is sometimes exasperating – testing the patience of saints and readers alike – the gradual uncovering of her torment leaves you with nothing but empathy.

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