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Women in the Wall

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In the novel -- as in history -- Radegunda is the wife of Clotair, King of Gaul, seized by him as a prize of war. When she suspects Clotair of murdering her brother, she retreats from the blood-lust of the Dark Ages. Taking the young, innocent Agnes with her, she establishes a religious order where pain and denial are deemed the pathways to virtue and redemption. But the " In the novel -- as in history -- Radegunda is the wife of Clotair, King of Gaul, seized by him as a prize of war. When she suspects Clotair of murdering her brother, she retreats from the blood-lust of the Dark Ages. Taking the young, innocent Agnes with her, she establishes a religious order where pain and denial are deemed the pathways to virtue and redemption. But the "calm" of self-renunciation cannot last when a sexual scandal involving Agnes is exposed. To expiate this sin, the "victim" fanatically decides to wall herself up. This decision sets off vicious rivalries among the women and draws Radegunda back to the kind of world she had escaped from.


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In the novel -- as in history -- Radegunda is the wife of Clotair, King of Gaul, seized by him as a prize of war. When she suspects Clotair of murdering her brother, she retreats from the blood-lust of the Dark Ages. Taking the young, innocent Agnes with her, she establishes a religious order where pain and denial are deemed the pathways to virtue and redemption. But the " In the novel -- as in history -- Radegunda is the wife of Clotair, King of Gaul, seized by him as a prize of war. When she suspects Clotair of murdering her brother, she retreats from the blood-lust of the Dark Ages. Taking the young, innocent Agnes with her, she establishes a religious order where pain and denial are deemed the pathways to virtue and redemption. But the "calm" of self-renunciation cannot last when a sexual scandal involving Agnes is exposed. To expiate this sin, the "victim" fanatically decides to wall herself up. This decision sets off vicious rivalries among the women and draws Radegunda back to the kind of world she had escaped from.

30 review for Women in the Wall

  1. 4 out of 5

    Netanella

    “I think you should meet my stepmother,” he told me. “An extraordinary woman. Very holy. You’ll have to go to Poitiers. I’ll give you an escort. Our roads, unfortunately, are unsafe. One can’t see to everything at once. We are plagued by civil wars. My brothers are most rapacious. I sometimes wish my father had strangled them at birth. He killed his nephews so as to prevent civil war in his own time but had no thought for mine. Unforesighted. But, as you know, Rome had a lot of civil war so we n “I think you should meet my stepmother,” he told me. “An extraordinary woman. Very holy. You’ll have to go to Poitiers. I’ll give you an escort. Our roads, unfortunately, are unsafe. One can’t see to everything at once. We are plagued by civil wars. My brothers are most rapacious. I sometimes wish my father had strangled them at birth. He killed his nephews so as to prevent civil war in his own time but had no thought for mine. Unforesighted. But, as you know, Rome had a lot of civil war so we needn’t feel ashamed.” - Frankish princeling to the poet Fortunatus I'm giving this a 4 star rating for several reasons, even though I can't really say if I liked it or not. I am most definitely disturbed by it, in a The Last Temptation of Christ sort of way, because anyone well versed in Catholic doctrine or early Medieval ecclesiastical history would consider this revisionist at best, and obscenely vile at worst. I'm not sure what to think of the book, but I can't seem to get it out of my mind. In canonical history, Radegund is a Frankish queen of early Gaul (6th century BCE) who left her husband Clotair to found the abbey of the Holy Cross at Poitiers. Known for her charity and her healing skills, she is revered in the Catholic Church as a saint. One of her close female friends, the lady in waiting Agnes, becomes the first abbess at Holy Cross. She is also canonized in the Catholic Church. O'Faolain takes these historical figures, and the poet Fortunatus, and weaves her own story, one that is grounded in the worldly, and very earthy, affairs of this early Medieval period. Many readers may take offense at the author's emphasis on the mundane and the mundane motivations that drive the characters in her book. Radegunda's flight from her husband is caused, not so much by his killing her brother, but by her revulsion of him in bed. Early in the novel, Fortunatus (who goes on in history to become a bishop) goes to a brothel for his pleasures, and then unwittingly assists in an abortion. Agnes and Fortunatus have a sexual affair, and Agnes gives birth, in secret, to a little girl named Ingunda. Whether there is any kernel of a truth in any of this, I have no idea. But it certainly makes for interesting reading.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Jessup

    Sheds a lot of light on Gaul in the 7th or 8th century, the socio-political chaos and the dominance of the Catholic church as an escape and haven from the perils of the outside world, particularly for women -- but a harsh escape, with hazards of its own. When I finished the book I had the sense of loss, of leaving behind a world that I had become immersed in.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ann Tonks

    It's so long since I've read it that I all I can remember is that I enjoyed it enough to keep it on my book shelf 40 years. It's so long since I've read it that I all I can remember is that I enjoyed it enough to keep it on my book shelf 40 years.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mariko

    This was unlike any book I've read before. Disturbing and strange yet somehow familiar and thoroughly engrossing. While reading I kept thinking of Hilary Mantel's article on female saints, which I link with warnings for self harm and abuse that also go for this book (at LRB: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n05/hilary-...) It's difficult to articulate this, but I feel that O'Faolain very deftly addresses the destructive nature of Catholicism in the way someone who was raised with it feels on a bone deep This was unlike any book I've read before. Disturbing and strange yet somehow familiar and thoroughly engrossing. While reading I kept thinking of Hilary Mantel's article on female saints, which I link with warnings for self harm and abuse that also go for this book (at LRB: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n05/hilary-...) It's difficult to articulate this, but I feel that O'Faolain very deftly addresses the destructive nature of Catholicism in the way someone who was raised with it feels on a bone deep level. Two quotes stayed with me, in reference to the nuns in the cloister: "They wanted a reality. Any reality." And "When everything has as much meaning as this, doubt could not but arise as to whether anything had any meaning at all." The women escape into smaller and smaller worlds, retreating from the brutality of Gaul into the deprivation of the convent, and for some finally into the enclosed space in the walls of the convent itself. As I mentioned above, notions of self harm are tied inextricably with religious fervor to a disturbing degree and as with the above article O'Faolain does not treat this as an unknowable aberration but as a response to outer cruelty and a capricious and brutal world. I also couldn't help but think of the Ireland O'Faolain would have written this in and indeed been raised in. To think there were Magdalene laundries in operation over two decades after this book was first published should give pause to any critic of the "accuracy" it provides. In many ways I found I couldn't put this book down because I wanted it to be over. Much of what these women face exists in our world now under subtler means but no less destructive. Like the best historical fiction it offers a good story but also a mirror with which to view ourselves more clearly, and the image is not one we may wish to see.

  5. 4 out of 5

    kelly

    3.5 stars. Parts were really lovely, and parts were odd. The shifting among numerous first-person narrators was hard to follow and the real plot didn't seem to pick up until about two-thirds or so through the book. But the prose was lovely and the story interesting. 3.5 stars. Parts were really lovely, and parts were odd. The shifting among numerous first-person narrators was hard to follow and the real plot didn't seem to pick up until about two-thirds or so through the book. But the prose was lovely and the story interesting.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Kohlhoff

    Interesting subject (Radegunda) - but the actual writing is underwhelming.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sadie

    Fascinating for me because it created a convincing picture of the 6th century, and of religious and political belief at that time in Europe.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kathi Olsen

    This is actually listed as historical fiction as there are 2 made up characters in the story. The time period is roughly 568 to 587. Reading this was like reading Les Miz when Hugo went off on tangents about understanding different aspects of life of the time period. This was not a fast or particularly enjoyable read and I almost stopped about 3 times. I understand life in convents during that time would be pretty rough, but the people were also quite narrow minded and had a limited understandin This is actually listed as historical fiction as there are 2 made up characters in the story. The time period is roughly 568 to 587. Reading this was like reading Les Miz when Hugo went off on tangents about understanding different aspects of life of the time period. This was not a fast or particularly enjoyable read and I almost stopped about 3 times. I understand life in convents during that time would be pretty rough, but the people were also quite narrow minded and had a limited understanding of the scriptures

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mgb

    It is sometimes difficult to read books about times long gone(in this case the 500s AD) with language and ideas so alien to us. Add to that trying to help the reader understand why one would voluntarily be immured for life. The author does a fair job of this task...and pulls off a strong ending. I first read this book about 40 years ago and remembered it as ‘great’ and ‘weird’. Now I would classify it as ‘pretty good’ and ‘weird’.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    Multiple female leads and a Game of Thrones plot. What’s not to like? Plus you get to revel in not having to cope with living in the C6th.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    wow!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Linda

  13. 5 out of 5

    Janette

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lily

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jane

  16. 5 out of 5

    Caroline Love

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sunnysidepete

  18. 5 out of 5

    mart

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sue

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia Vengraitis

  21. 5 out of 5

    MarinaS

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

  23. 4 out of 5

    Girl From the North Country

  24. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Skirboll

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dilaraa

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mia

  27. 4 out of 5

    ``Laurie Henderson

  28. 4 out of 5

    Susan Wyler

  29. 4 out of 5

    Fran Carr

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Herklots

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