Brede is an English benedictine monastary where 90 nuns of varying ages and social classes live, work and pray together. Most took their vows as young women, but some, like Phillipa, entered at a later age. All of them come with baggage that doesn´t just go away when they put on their habits. Godden succeeds in showing that being a nun does not exempt one from petty jealousies, baser emotions and deep longings.
Godden paints the ironies of life with a deft touch: The necessity of coming to the end of oneself in order to find oneself (Matthew 16:25), the closed-in Abbey being a more "spacious" place than the open town, and the desire of the nuns to be separate from the world yet needing to belong.
For those with a religious bent (Catholic or Protestant), this novel gives much to ponder. Philippa became a nun to "give herself away," but found later that she had put conditions on how that should be done. (Oswald Chambers echoes this idea in his devotional book, My Utmost, when he says that God sometimes crushes us like grapes to turn us into good wine. We don´t mind the crushing as long as we can choose the hand that does it.- from Sept 30)
In spite of the lack of action, and my disagreements with some Catholic doctrines, I found this to be a deeply compelling book.
Two other Godden novels I've reviewed are China Court and Kingfishers Catch Fire.