First off, it’s a long book, so be prepared for that.
The Butcher’s Daughter, by Victoria Glendinning, is unusual in that it illustrates the dissolution of the monasteries and abbeys in Henry VIII’s reign from the perspective of a nun inside an abbey, and all the trauma that brought. Rather than portraying priests as pedophiles and nuns as emotionless crones, the author brings to life a variety of people in holy orders, who have human failings and feelings just like everyone else.
Inside the nunnery there’s a variety of people, too, from the very crazy to the very holy. So for those reasons, the book is almost unique, at least among today’s literature. The second quarter of the book lags a little while Agnes is a novice in Shaftesbury Abbey, but picks right up again after the King’s men come calling.
Agnes, the heroine of the Butcher’s Daughter is all too human and decides she is not quite cut out to be a nun, but doesn’t really want to be a wife either. But there weren’t too many other options in those days. And while Agnes does spend time inside a whore house, she isn’t that, either.
She does a good bit of traveling and learns to be an independent woman, without the support of husband, family and the church. Whether or not that was feasible for a sixteenth century woman remains somewhat questionable, but the author makes it all seem believable in a wonderfully human way.
So the book is left a bit unfinished, while we are wondering exactly what Agnes’ destiny might be. But it’s a rollicking ride to the finish, all about a woman struggling about her belief in God, her desire for a number of men, and her questions about life — one thing after another, as she relates. All in all, I rather enjoyed it.