Illuminations by Mary Sharratt
Hard Cover, 288 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
October 9, 2012
Genre: Historical Fiction, Religious Fiction
Source: Received from author for review and also as part of HFVBT tour
“Illuminations chronicles the life of Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179), who was tithed to the church at the age of eight and expected to live out her days in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned but disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. Instead, Hildegard rejected Jutta’s masochistic piety and found comfort and grace in studying books, growing herbs, and rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died some three decades later, Hildegard broke out of her prison with the heavenly calling to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters and herself from the soul-destroying anchorage.
Like Anita Diamant’s portrayal of Dinah in The Red Tent, Mary Sharratt interweaves historical research with psychological insight and vivid imagination to write an engaging and triumphant portrait of a courageous and remarkably resilient woman and the life she might have lived. Deeply affecting, Illuminations is a testament to the power of faith, love, and self-creation.”
This was one of those books that I wasn’t sure I would be into because of the subject matter. I have had bad luck in the past reading novels that are set essentially entirely in a nunnery/church/etc. I also had never heard of Hildegard von Bingen or Jutta von Sponheim. However, everyone I spoke with had nothing but great things to say about the book and highly recommended it. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed with this book.
Apparently a lot can happen within two small rooms with a high-walled courtyard and only a small screen to see out into the church. It was a very emotional novel - really getting into the mind of Hildegard, Jutta, and their other followers. There was a lot of drama between these girls – as you would expect across time and place with any group of women enclosed in a small space over a long period of time. Hildegard really grew as a character; I can’t say I always liked her or agreed with her, but when she set her mind to something she went for it – and that I admire. Unlike the other novels that I have read set in a church setting it was still engaging for the reader and not at all boring. Although the book was relatively short the way the novel was written it made it feel much longer.
Even only having a passing interest in religious figures and events I found the book very interesting. The pace of prose moved right along and the characters kept me connected to the story. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Christian subjects or really to anyone interested in a well written psychological story.
Author Mary Sharratt also has written several books including: Daughters of the Witching Hill and Vanishing Point. You can visit Sharratt’s website or blog for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?
My reviews of other books by this author:
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I also have a giveaway opportunity for all of you – one copy of Illuminations by Mary Sharratt. It is open internationally! Giveaway is open until October 27th. Make your entries in the Rafflecopter below. Good luck everyone!
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