The Directrix

Kathleen Rowntree, Author St. Martin's Press $16.95 (230p) ISBN 978-0-312-05414-4
The directrix (second-in-command) of Albion Priory lies on her deathbed, and the prioress chooses as her joint successors Sister Catherine, spiritual and humble, and Sister Margaret, pragmatic and ambitious. In her U.S. debut, British novelist Rowntree uses this pairing of opposites to portray a fascinating contest of wills that radically changes the political and social climate of the Priory and brings out the strong personalites of both the admirably upright and the dangerously self-seeking characters. Margaret's cohorts immediately begin jockeying for favor as their autocratic leader enacts plans to restore the Priory for wealthy visitors; concerned Catherine maintains a low profile, doing her best to help the outcast nuns. The convoluted plots by which Margaret's friends cheat, threaten and blackmail to get power characterize their leader as eloquently as Catherine's empathetic friendships and support of strong-willed young nuns reveal her emotional stability. Since the oblivious prioress provides no help in the conflict between self-interest and compassion, Catherine finally confronts Margaret in a debate, which continues the battle between community spirit and financial reality. The strengths of this unusual novel lie in Rowntree's ability to convey the often mundane but interesting details of religious life and to limn her characters' inner lives with clarity and compassion. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1991
Release date: 04/01/1991
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