4 July 2009

Mark Salzman, Lying Awake, 2000

Sister John, a Carmelite nun in an austere Los Angeles monastery, has over thirty years gained some notoriety for experiencing a lucid and emotional connection with God, and yet after a fall her dilemma comes when she’s diagnosed with a form of curable epilepsy: have the mystic visions been a real experience of the divine or are they in fact more pathological and explicable? Salzman performs the admirable act of giving the reader a genuinely religious perspective on Sister John’s problem, and clearly he has a clear gift for being able to 'write the other'. Believably, Sister John also has no external life with her depiction being almost entirely internal, and Salzman doesn’t attempt to answer her paradox by taking the side of either science or belief. A sensitive, delicate and quietly impressive read, and not without its edginess when the nuns are confronted with the conflicts and vagaries of the outside world.  PY


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