Note: I got a LibraryThing early reviewer copy. The novel is due to be published in November 2010.
The Convent is the story of six nuns who inhabit a decaying convent in a remote region of Spain in the 1930s, and what happens when a baby suddenly turns up on the convent steps. The clue to the narrative is given in the very first line: "Those whom God wishes to destroy he first makes mad." It's a simple story told in 214 pages; but like all good literary fiction, there's a lot more to the novel than meets the eye.
And this is very good literary fiction. The writing is characterized by lightness of touch and a fluid, understated style that pulled me through the story at high speed. The way the psychology of the characters is brought out in a few scattered paragraphs is just beautiful. Panos Karnezis also has a way of starting and ending chapters that has me wanting to hang on to this ARC for further study.
I was slightly unsettled by what was going on underneath the story. If this was the author's intention--and he hides himself so well that it's very hard to tell what his intention is--he succeeded completely. I couldn't make up my mind whether he was showing what the introduction of sin could do in a place of good, or whether he was laughing at everything the religious characters stood for. I suspect the latter. The novel is rife with images of decay, corruption, foulness and bestiality, although not once are these themes made explicit. They just sit there, waiting to be discovered; everything that Karnezis describes has a surface and an underneath. And of course there is also the convent's almost total isolation from what we'd call civilization; I'm always attracted by themes like this.
The Convent screams "book club"--it's the sort of novel that will provoke discussion, and yet it's not at all "difficult." An exemplary piece of writing. Recommended.