Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Hour Before Dawn

The Hour Before Dawn

By Penelope Wilcock

published by Lion Fiction, 2015

This is the fifth book in "The Hawk & The Dove" series, and the joy of Abbot John's first Easter at St Alcuin's Abbey in his new role is destroyed by the news that his mother and sister have been attacked at their home.

His mother is dead, his sister Madeleine has been brutally violated and poor Abbot John is shocked and distressed beyond measure; not even his faithful attendant Brother Tom can help him in his devastation and grief. To everyone's surprise, help comes in the unlikely form of Brother William, who had so recently caused his own form of chaos in the community.

 It is William who goes with the Abbot to visit Madeleine, who has taken shelter at the convent of the Poor Clares, but the siblings in their grief and shock can give each other no comfort yet and the visit is a painful one for them both. Blame, self-blame and recrimination are the undercurrents during this meeting and it is William who comes to the rescue once more. His determination to go in search of one of his homeless brother monks leads to the discovery of poor Brother Oswald, tortured, blinded, made dumb and left to die. Caring for Oswald is a task  John knows how to do, and Oswald's truly pitiable state leads John and Madeleine to put aside their problems and unite in caring for someone who needs the medical expertise of them both working together as a team to help him recover.

This is in many ways a dramatic and sometimes distressing book, yet it is filled with radiant episodes of hope, faith, love and quite superlative goodness. The meaning of taking on one another's burdens out of love, truly living in community and excluding no-one as well as what it means to have a vocation as a Christian, let alone a monk, are all beautifully explored.  Brother Conradus is an absolute joy, as you will find out, and shows us that even the smallest things done with love can sometimes have the most profound and lasting impact.

 Even after my fourth reading, I am still finding new depths and insights each time; this is another magnificent installment by Pen Wilcock, and a blessing to read.

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