About The Abbess of Crewe:
An election (?) has been held at the Abbey of Crewe. The new Lady Abbess takes up her high office with implacable serenity. She had expected to win – one way or the other
When did I first read this? sometime after 1977 (when the edition I have was published) and June 1980 (when I started keeping a record of books read)
What age was I? between 16 and 19
How many times since then? This is my fifth time of reading.
Thoughts about the book:
I have been a fan of Muriel Spark for almost thirty-five years which is an astonishing thing to realise given that inside my head I am still 17 rather than the batty old dear I sometimes consider myself these days. I can’t recall now when I was first introduced to her; my memory says The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (which I have reviewed here) but another part of me thinks that I may have read some of her stuff before then and that The Abbess was one of the first.
It fascinates me because it is a short and pointed re-telling of the Watergate saga if it had taken place in an English convent, with The Abbess the Nixonian figure and her rival, Sister Felicity, representing the Democrats. And of course it’s not the theft of the silver thimble during the election of the Abbess, it’s the ensuing cover up which causes the problems. I think this has stuck with me not just because it’s another one of Sparks’ perfect little jewels but because it’s about Watergate which has fascinated me since I read All The Presidents Men in the early seventies (I still have the film tie-in edition somewhere in the house with long-haired Redford and Hoffman on the cover) and I have quite a few books on the subject, so some of the fun in reading The Abbess is in trying to identify the equivalents of the real life protagonists such as Haldeman and Kissinger (though the latter is really easy, Sister Gertrude a wonderful character awkays at one remove from political danger).
So almost certainly not a masterpeice but one of my absolute favourites and short enough to be read in one satisfying sitting.
“Why should they trouble themselves about a salacious nun and a Jesuit? I must say a jesuit, or any priest for that matter, would be the last man I would myself elect to be laid by. A man who undresses, maybe; a man who unfrocks, no”
“And it seems to me, Gertrude, that you are going to have a problem with those cannibals on the Latter Day when the trumpet shall sound. It’s a question of which man shall rise in the Resurrection, for certainly those that are eaten have long since become the consumers from generation to generation.”
“Now if you please, Walburga, let’s consult The Art of War because time is passing and the sands are running out.”
This is the second book in my Big Re-read Project; it was also my first Readathon read and would have been part of my contribution to Muriel Spark week if I had been sufficiently organised to (1) read a couple of other Sparks and (b) get around to blogging about The Abbess.