Review 1697: Black Narcissus

Best of Ten!

After reading Coromandel Sea Change, I decided to find more of Rumer Godden’s India novels and read them. Black Narcissus was the first (although I have already reviewed a few of the others), and I found it mysterious and haunting.

Sister Clodagh and a small group of Anglican nuns arrive at a palace above a remote Himalayan village to establish a convent, hospital, and school. The abandoned palace once was the home of the General’s father’s harem. He first gave it to religious brothers for a boys’ school, but after only five months, they left with no explanation.

From the first, the place seems to affect the sisters oddly. Sister Clodagh finds herself dreaming about Ireland and Con, whom she thought would marry her long ago. Sister Philippa, the gardener, becomes involved with the flower garden, to the neglect of the vegetables and the laundry. Sister Honey becomes too involved with the children. Sister Ruth, always difficult, becomes obsessed with Mr. Dean, the General’s agent. The sisters occasionally begin to forget their devotions.

Mr. Dean has warned the sisters about possible cultural misunderstandings with the villagers, but although they sometimes make an attempt to understand the natives, mostly the sisters heedlessly continue on their agendas. The sense of foreboding grows.

This is an absolutely terrific novel, very atmospheric, in which the brooding mountain across from the convent becomes almost godlike, certainly a character. I was so rivetted, I stayed up late into the night until I finished it.

Kingfishers Catch Fire

The River

Coromandel Sea Change

6 thoughts on “Review 1697: Black Narcissus

  1. Helen July 26, 2021 / 1:08 pm

    I still haven’t read anything by Rumer Godden. This sounds like a good one to start with!

  2. piningforthewest July 31, 2021 / 5:47 pm

    I really like her writing. You might be interested in the recent mini series of Black Narcissus, I thought it was well done. There is also a very old film 1947, starring Deborah Kerr.

    • whatmeread July 31, 2021 / 7:32 pm

      I have seen both. I didn’t think that either one had such a haunting atmosphere as the book, though.

  3. Rick August 3, 2021 / 5:31 am

    I loved the film and look forward to reading the novel.

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