DALA LID l
Sex and religion make for a potent cocktail. Wendy Perriam specialises in weaving the two together, noting parallels and finding ultimately that the two co-exist unhappily and uneasily. Her latest novel, “Devils, ForA Change’. describes the experiences at Hilary, a thirty-nine year-old nun who has just left the seclusion of her Norfolk convent alter twenty years of silence and sell-restraint. The shock of modernity, in the shape of London’s cramped chaos, is upon her.
Part of Perriam’s research for the book involved staying in three convents, although much of the background material was drawn from her own experiences as a pupil at a very strict Catholic boarding school. She found that the life of a contemporary nun has, in many cases, not changed over the years. Surprisingly, she also unveiled aspects common to both convent lite and that of prostitutes in brothels— which she visited whilst researching material for her last book, ‘Sin City‘. ‘There are definite similarities—they’re both communities of women, they’re both in out-ol-the-way places, and they’re both looked at askance by outsiders. Both establishments are confined — prostitutes have to abide by very strict rules too. One woman has absolute poweroverthe inhabitants. Nuns and prostitutes also share a tear or dislike of men and a distorted attitude to sex. A priest in one of the convents I went into actually said that a good contemplative nun should be like a prostitute in that she gave herself to everybody without lavouritism. I thought he was daring just to mention the word.‘
Confinement is a preoccupation of Perriam’s. ‘I went to a very strict school —we weren't allowed out until the age of eighteen and a hall, except for crocodiles of three on Saturday or Sunday afternoons. When i went to Las Vegas to research “Sin City", llound the whole city conlined. It's almost like a prison. The gamblers are always inside, the casinos and hotels have no windows because they don’t want people to know what time it is, so they will keep gambling. The brothels I visited were astonishingly like girls’ boarding schools.‘
Hilary, newly freed from her convent’s seclusion, finds that the outside world presents a different sort of continementtorwomen—fashion, cosmetics, sexual expectations, demands of children, stresslul daily
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chores. She persists with the penances of her religious past, hoping that sell-abasementwill appease her sense of inadequacy. The penances she endures— eating inedible food like gristle and fat, walking in boots that rub herskin away—are, Perriam discovered, still practised in nunneries. ‘People aren’t aware nowadays just how strict they still can be. I met one ex-nun who had worn an armlet which was studded with metal - it had stuck into herllesh foryears, and now her arm aches constantly. I came across other penances, like lying prostrate on the floor while the other nuns step on you, or going round begging food. Somehow it’s not inhuman, because it does have a purpose.‘
There are two pivotal scenes where Perriam attempts an extraordinary marriage between sex and religion. In one, a priest is attempting to seduce Hilary and in another, her first real lover, Robert acts out a monk-nun
sexual fantasy. ‘I thought people might
be offended by the blasphemy ol Hilary imagining Christ on the cross when she’s in bed with the priest. Butl remember how, as children, we were so curious about male bodies because we never saw any men. The only man we ever saw was Christ’s naked body which was all over the place. It was often completely naked except for a tiny loin cloth. lthink it did sometimes result in unwholesome tantasies- as Hilary says, she was surprised that all men weren’t pink and hairless and dying.’
(Kristina Woolnough) ‘Devils, ForA Change’ is published by Grafton at £12.95.
I A Day in Summer J . L. Carr (Hogarth £5.95) From the author of A Mont/2 in the Country comes his attractively old-fashioned first novel (1963). A simple tale of revenge — will Peplow find and kill his son‘s murderer? — it escalates into an expose of a seemingly dull town. Secrets surface alongside tension. and Carr‘s humorous touch is tinged with more disturbing undercurrents. I A Green Manifesto Sandy Irvine/Alec Ponton (Macdonald
Optima £6.99) (‘laiming that we are the most endangered species on earth. the authors put forward positive alternatives for a future where the grass is greener. A densely packed intelligent outline. marking the Green Party‘s Coming of Age. IThe Choice l lenry Denker (W.H. Allen £2.99) For Walter. a skilled surgeon who can almost work miracles. standing by helplessly while his daughter dies of leukaemia is a bitter experience. Predictable. emotional and very American.
autobiographical journal 1979—81 Philip 'l'oynbee (Hamish Hamilton £7.95) Challenging thoughts and reflections from 'l'oynbee‘s last two years. \"ariously troubled and serene. these are the razor-edged musings ofa questing mind and spirit.
I Women of the French Revolution Linda Kelly (Hamish Hamilton £6.95) From self-centred aristos to an outspoken feminist. an unusual slant on the whole bloody affair. as seen through the eyes of the women involved.
I Maple Leaf Rag Stephen Brook (Picador £4.99) Entertaining. slightly repentant account of(‘anada from a writer previously hampered by the dual curse of British and American prejudice.
I The Allingham Casebook Margery Allingham (Hogarth £3.95) A choice selection ofshort stories from this popular but literary detective novelist. From the case of burnt money to a nastily murdered wife. abrim with Allingham‘s elegant wit and period flavour. Better than the 'l‘V' series.
I Cargo of Eagles Margery Allingham (Hogarth £3.95) The tiny village of Satey is not as bucolic and naive as it first appears. The perfect setting for the deceptively vague Albert (‘ampion to sharpen his sleuthish wits. Ms Allingham‘s last novel. completed by her husband.
l’rint't's Square. (.‘lusgow 'l'elcphone: ()41 226 3032
c221,... 1:%.'.R*fj::.‘..~ ' ‘ . ' I T e Tin Drum Gtinter Grass (Picador £6.99) From an eel-filled horse's head to an erotic doormat. the disturbing classic ofescalating Nazi atrocities. played out to the fevered drumming of ()scar the dwarf.
I Cat and Mouse (itinter (irass (Picador £3.95) A distinctively oblique angle on Hitler's Germany and its brooding aftermath. Powerful and upsetting. as ever.
I Boy Wonderlames Robert Baker (Futura £5.99) A breathless. gossipy account of the sex-sodden life and dramatic death of Shark 'l'rager.
l lollywood super-figure. 'l'old through a hundred voices. it’s not unlike a telephone exchange when all the wires are crossed.
I The Scottish Poetry Library celebrates its 5th Birthday with
a fund-raising party on Monday 13 l-‘ebruary. (v.30- lllpm. (iuests of Honour will be Norman McCaig. Sorley Macl.ean and Naomi Mitchison. Donations ofat least £lll are requested to help boost funds for the new Poetry Library extension.
5 N S S E S Y
The List 10— 23 February 57