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Lambs of God
Marele Day

Lambs of God
Marele Day
London 1997

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Lambs of God is a compelling tale of paradise lost, and ultimately regained. Three nuns, Iphigenia, Margarita and Carla live in primitive isolation on a wild and remote island. Uncivilised and de-socialised, they are the last survivors of a dying religious order who have interwoven the traditions of Catholicism into their primal and organic existence. The liturgies, chants and sacraments of the Holy Church of Rome are overlaid with the ceremonies and myths of the nuns’ own self-evolved paganism. Their lives are cyclical and contained, devoted to the tending of their flock of sheep and to the observance of their own and the Church’s sacred rituals.

Their peace is interrupted by the arrival of a young and ambitious priest who has been sent on a diocesan mission to evaluate their monastery as a potential development site. When the three nuns sense that their existence is in jeopardy the primal instinct of self-preservation takes over and the novel evolves into a dark Oresteian struggle between civilised, rational masculinity and more primitive feminine forces. The priest comes from ‘The World’, a place where mobile phones and expensive cars are as much a symbol of the Church’s power as the gold and lapis lazuli icons of the past. The nuns have never used a telephone or driven a car. Sister Carla has never before met a man. They are elderly innocents, their faith driven by the spirit of the early Christian martyrs and the transcendental masochism of Christ’s Passion. For all their naivety, however, the nuns are far from stupid. The unlucky Father Ignatius soon finds that his arrogance and worldly connections are a poor defence against the native cunning and unshakeable faith of these most unlikely adversaries.

Marele Day’s prose is rich and imaginative as she weaves together the mythologies of fairy tales and ancient civilisations to create a vision of a strange and powerful system of beliefs. Her narrative is fast-paced and often humourous but is underpinned by layers of potent symbolism and allusion. This is undoubtedly a ‘literary’ novel, the first by a previously established writer of genre fiction and Marele Day makes the crossover unselfconsciously and without pretension. Lambs of God is a strikingly contemporary novel, and at the same time an exploration of immortal literary themes and timeless spiritual struggles. It is original without seeming to strive for novelty and it makes brilliant use of literary device without conscious erudition or obscurity.

The success of this novel lies in Day’s manipulation of a stunningly original and unique situation into a powerful and accessible human drama. There is a brilliant sensitivity at work in the creation of these bizarre heroines, which is well matched by her incisive commentary on the state of the twentieth century church. Day quite literally works wonders with an unpromising cast list of three old nuns, a priest and a flock of sheep. Outside the realms of the most depraved pornography, this would seem to be a situation with very limited potential. In Day’s hands, however, their drama is as fascinating and compelling as any more widely or glamorously populated work of fiction. Lambs of God really is worth reading . It is the kind of novel that you will lend to a friend and then never see again as it gets passed on, over and over. Marele Day is a truly welcome addition to the overcrowded world of literary fiction and her next offering will be keenly awaited.

Reviewed by Polly Rance


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