Frances Fyfield – “Seeking Sanctuary”

1 Jun

GENRE: Mystery
PUBLISHED: Time Warner Paperback, 2004

The back blurb:
“Theodore Calvert walked out on his wife and children, Anna and Therese, when they needed him most. Now, from beyond the grave, his carefully will is set to unravel his daughters’ lives all over again …”

We have:
– two sisters, Anna and Therese, who had some mysterious illness as children. One of them lives in a convent, the other turned in the opposite direction.
– a very religious mother, now dead
– a father, Theodore Calvert, who left an unusual will
– a pater who struggles with his belief in God
– the former housekeeper of the father
– her son
– a bunch of nuns

What we don’t have:
– a (coherent) plot.

Just what is the point of this novel?

From the looks of it, a main theme might be religion and faith. But this part of the story is not really convincing. There are to many points of view to get a handle on it. Some are interesting, but since nearly every character gets an own point of view there are just too many for a novel with 310 pages. It there a point to all these perspectives about religion and faith, or is there not? Or are some of them just there to make the novel longer?

Then there is the “crime” part. Sadly, I found this even more unconvincing than the “religion” part. There’s an unusual will a lot of people know about except the two children. Some just don’t do anything with their knowledge (= tell the children), others act to their own benefit, and the children stand to lose their inheritance, although they don’t know they have one. Then there are some mysterious deaths in the convent. Again, mostly because characters choose not to say a thing about something they know. But then, where would be the story if they would say a thing …? And these are all the impressions I still have of this part of the novel.

One more problem: I already mentioned the many point of view characters. Sometimes this can get downright confusing:

“Therese saw that they were lined up by the refectory door, like a waiting tribe, with Sister Joseph at the head of the queue. Today was the feast day of St Joseph, not the more famous St Joseph of Nazareth, husband of Mary and father to Jesus, but another Joseph altogether, an obscure man of Aragon, who founded a religious congregation for the education of the poor. Sister Joseph had taken the name when she entered the Order and although it was better than her own, it could never be as good as a martyr, like Agnes. The taste in her mouth was sour.”

(page 53)

Whose taste?

I tend to think it’s Agnes (confirmed in the next paragraph), but the quoted paragraph starts with Therese’s point of view. It’s not the only time this problem comes up, and I was a little “huh?” because I didn’t expect it from someone with several books published and who writes not bad otherwise.

Oddly enough, I read this book in one day. I guess it was the hope to find an answer to the question: “What is this about?” that kept me reading. But whereas Susanna Clarke in a similar situation (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) delivered some kind of answer, Frances Fyfield does not. At least, 310 pages don’t take that long to read, and apart from some perspective problems, this novel is easy to read. That, and I was bored out of my mind with no energy to do anything – I stuck with it.

Would I recommend this novel? No.

Would I read this novel again? No.

Grade: 2 / 5 – I was really tempted to give it a 1/5. Not because it’s that bad, it’s because I didn’t see the point of the novel. But I read it all so …


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