by Marele Day



330pp/$12.95/April 1999

Lambs of God

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Three nuns living in a secluded monastery on the Australian Coast open Marele Day's Lambs of God, a study of faith and religion in the modern world.  Sisters Iphegenia, Margarita and Carla are the only nuns remaining in their ruined retreat, ignoring the outside world while concentrating on the religiousity inherent in their repetition of daily life.  Their only company is their faith in Jesus and the flock of sheep they tend.

The nuns have taken to naming the sheep after their departed sisters.  While they don't seem to honestly believe that the sheep are reincarnations of the women who used to live in the monastery, the lines are occasionally blurred.  Into this structured world, a man comes, Father Ignatius, whom the sisters insist on naming Father John after the ram who services the flock.

Ignatius is surprised to discover the nuns, for he was under the impression that the monastery was deserted.  His mission was to see about the feasibility of turning the monastery into a retreat for the wealthy to help increase the diocesan treasury.   While the existence of the nuns puts a damper on his plans, it doesn't sideline them entirely and Ignatius tries to figure out how to remove the nuns and the sheep from the monastery.

Lambs of God is a satirical look at the differences in religious beliefs.   Both the nuns and Father Ignatius are religious and worship the same deity, but their methods are different.  In seclusion, the nuns remain true to what they believe are the traditional ways, although it is clear that their own superstitions and beliefs have invaded the way the worship.  Father Ignatius belongs to a more secular Church which realizes that the Church must live in the secular world and must make accomodations.

Day does a good job in contrasting the different views of religion without fully espousing one view or the other.  Instead, she pokes and prods each version of Christianity to show where it can be unravelled while demonstrating the firmness of faith which is held by the followers of the different ideologies.

Each of Day's characters has their own little quirks, from Carla, the youngest of the nuns who has an overwhelming urge to mimic the actions of others to Sister Iphegenia, whose sense of smell in almost preternaturally heightened.  Despite, or perhaps because, of these quirks, the characters are easy o identify with and their idiosyncracies help speed the novel along.  Day's novel has little action, although is it laced with humorous incidents and interesting events.

Lambs of God is a good introduction to an established Australian author whose work is now beginning to appear in the United States.  So many Australian authors have work appearing, it is almost as if the major US publishing houses have decided that the late 1990s are going to be a period of Aussie literature in the US.  Fortunately, much of what is being published in the US is high quality with a strange sense of humor.

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