Author: Caren J. Werlinger
Published: May 2013 by Corgyn Publishing
Category: Literary Fiction, Lesbian Romance, Book Review
In a world increasingly connected to computers and machines but disconnected to self and others, Dr. Michele Stewart finds herself drowning in a life that no longer holds meaning. Searching for a deeper connection after losing her partner, Alice, she enters a contemplative monastery, living a life dedicated to prayer, to faith in things unseen. Though most of her family and friends are convinced that she has become a nun to run away from her life, she finds herself more attuned to life than she has been in years.
In This Small Spot is a beautifully written and emotional story following the life choices, ups and downs, and introspections of Dr Michele Stewart, a renowned oncology surgeon. Several years after losing her much loved partner, Alice, to cancer, she questions her role as a doctor and her place in the medical profession.
After leaving school Michele (Mickey) toyed with the idea of becoming a nun but decided to go to university and later met Alice. Now, needing something to give her life some meaning she again contemplates the life of a nun. Many conversations with Mother Theodora later, Mickey decides to enter St Bridget’s Abbey as a postulant.
Several seconds passed as Mother Theodora searched Mickey’s eyes. “I know you mean that, Mickey. But remember that an abbey is not a place where you can run away from yourself. Quite the contrary. Having stripped away the disguises and distractions of the outside world: clothes, career, material possessions, the true you is most often magnified, for better or for worse.”
The story is multi-layered, very atmospheric, written with depth and told in the present with flashbacks to Mickey’s life with Alice, showing the kind of woman she was before shock and grief began to chip away at her confidence and belief in her work. She feels the need to re-assess, to try and work out where she belongs, hoping this spiritual journey will help to clarify what is important and the right path to take, even though she’s aware it’s likely to be a struggle.
The characters are wonderfully drawn, complex and in the main sympathetic, finding themselves at St Bridget’s Abbey for various reasons and not all of them, including Mickey, finding it easy. There are questions and sometimes doubts arise. Human emotions are evident — homophobia, envy and intolerance, to name a few — although in some cases tightly controlled. There is drama, bonds formed, humour, love and unexpected and shocking events, along with the structured everyday life of the nuns, which is fascinating.
Mickey is a realistic and relatable character, struggling with her emotions and choices. As time passes she becomes more adaptable and aware, and always ready to help others as the sense of community deepens. But the world outside the abbey creeps in, testing Mickey and forcing her to make choices she wouldn’t have imagined.
I had to sit with this story for a while and it’s one that will stay with me for a good while. I’ve only read one of Caren Werlinger’s books before this one, but it’s something I’ll be rectifying as soon as I can.
I chose to read and review In This Small Spot for Rosie Amber’s book review team, based on a digital copy kindly supplied by the author.
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Bestselling author Caren Werlinger published her first award-winning novel, Looking Through Windows, in 2008. Since then, she has published fifteen more novels, winning several more awards. Influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkein, Ursula LeGuin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather and the Brontë sisters, Caren writes literary fiction that features the struggles and joys of characters readers can identify with. Her stories cover a wide range of genres: historical fiction, contemporary drama, and fantasy, including the award-winning Dragonmage Saga, a fantasy trilogy set in ancient Ireland. Most recently, she created the magical setting of Little Sister Island (a place she and her readers wish were real) in When the Stars Sang and Face the Wind.
She lives in Virginia with her wife and their canine fur-children.