Dropping the Habit by Marion Dante

16th June 2013

“Have you read…” began the conversation and a frisson of excitement briefly took form as we discussed the merits (or otherwise) of a book written by a former Salesian nun. This was our annual get together for the class of 1970 of the former St John Bosco’s Convent Grammar School, Chertsey. It was not often that our former Alma Mater makes it into a published work. Would we recognise any of the people mentioned, would we even find ourselves in the pages of the book, and would it shed light on the lives of the women who educated us? And what scandals would be unveiled along the way?

And so I acquired the book on my eReader. The beginning started well enough, with the reminisces of a young Marion Dante in Ireland. There must be a guide somewhere that authors use for recreating the thoughtscape of a young child. The simple language and the half understanding of what is happening. Which is strange, because children, when they write, do not use this language.

As the book wore on, once I had got past Marion’s stay at the Sandgates convent in Chertsey, the book began to pall. There were points of interest, the lives of the nuns and the aspirants for instance and the changes wrought by Vatican II.

Undoubtedly, Marion’s life as nun was hard. And yes, the Church does have some hang ups about sex. The Manichean Heresy is not dead, even after 1700 years. Bodies are bad and sex is even worse. Only the spiritual world is good. But we live in our bodies and in Marion’s story is the suffering that results in such a negative view of the world.

However, I lost interest. The life of Marion drones on. Marion has a difficult childhood (her mother is chronically depressed – post natal depression?), the family is poor. Marion becomes a nun (to escape?). Marion has a breakdown and eventually leaves the order. And in her state of depression she fails to see she is not alone, for she has the remarkable gift of always finding a friend or two to help her, to give shelter and advice. So I ask, is this a story about a woman maltreated by a religious order or is it a story of a woman whose life is blighted by mental illness – first her mother’s and then her own breakdown.

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