Books: The Cloister and the Heart

IN THIS HOUSE OF BREDE by Rumer Godden. 376 pages. Viking. $6.95.

Novels about nuns, even if the holy ladies drive Jeeps and play baseball, have a hard time making it. When the nuns are members of a contemplative order, the outlook is bleak indeed. Yet this chronicle of 15 years in an English monastery is an immensely readable book, partly because the way of life detailed here proves as exotic and medieval as Cosa Nostra society, partly because the story moves briskly forward, with only a few lapses into melodrama.

The story centers on the erratic spiritual progress of Dame Philippa,...

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