Aussie Book Review: The Convent by Maureen McCarthy #aww2012

The Convent The Convent by Maureen McCarthy


 Review copy provided by publisher

 Allen & Unwin, October 2012

 Synopsis- ‘I woke up with a feeling about today,’ Stella says dreamily. ‘Something truly amazing is going to happen.’ ‘To us or to the world?’ I say. ‘To you.’ ‘To me?’ I laugh. ‘Nothing ever happens to me, Stella.’ ‘But today it will.’ ‘Will it be good?’ She looks thoughtful and then frowns. ‘I … I don’t know.’
Peach is nineteen and pretty happy with the way things are. She has her university work, two wildly different best friends, her sister, Stella, to look after and a broken heart to mend. But when she takes a summer job at a cafe in the old convent, her idea of who she is takes a sharp turn ?into the past.
Where once there were nuns, young girls and women who had fallen on hard times, Peach discovers secrets from three generations of her family. As their stories are revealed, Peach is jolted out of her comfort zone. But does she really want to know who she is?
Warm and real, intense and provocative, Maureen McCarthy’s The Convent shows in vivid detail how fate and the choices we make ripple and reverberate through time.
A novel to fall in love with.

 Review- The Convent is a fascinating exploration of (fictional) young women who were associated with the Abbotsford Convent. Inspired by McCarthy’s family history, The Convent is a young adult novel which will appeal to readers young and old. The author’s mother was raised in the Abbotsford Convent as a ward of the state in the 1920’s and for a long time she yearned to inquire into the past, but didn’t actively research the institution until after her mother’s death.

I’m a big fan of Maureen McCarthy’s novels; the first I read was When You Wake and Find Me Gone (2002) which I picked up in my late teens. It’s set partly in Australia and partly in Ireland and explores history, war and family in such an powerful way that I’ve still got it sitting on my bookshelf almost ten years later… and I really should pick it up and read it again because I’ve always thought of it as one of my favourite books.

Anyway, back to The Convent! The four women were inspired by women in McCarthy’s own life, the woman who adopted out her daughter (her grandmother), the orphan (her mother), the nun (her sister), and the present-day student (her friend’s daughter). And so the characters Sadie, Ellen, Cecilia and Peach fell into place.

Sadie is a young woman separated from her husband in 1915. On one fateful day, her young daughter Ellen is removed from her care and placed with the nuns at the convent. She doesn’t play a huge role in this book, probably only two chapters are dedicated to her. But she is certainly the catalyst to the lives of the next three generations of women in the story.

Ellen was raised in the convent during a time when people didn’t ask questions or inquire about the past. Ellen goes on to have a have a large family, including one daughter, Cecilia. Ellen’s earlier years aren’t explored in too much detail through her viewpoint, but she plays a huge part in the novel during the present day era as the grandmother of young Peach.

Cecilia (Ellen’s daughter) was a young woman curious about the world and the role of God had in her life. She chose to join the convent at the age of 19 where she served as a nun for ten years. She is released from the convent in her thirties and a brief fling leads to an unplanned pregnancy. Baby Perpetua is born and Cecilia chooses to adopt her out to a couple who are ready and willing to raise a child.

Perpetua (Peach) is the main protagonist of the novel, set in modern day (the 90s I think) and she’s just got a new job at the local café in an arty precinct, formerly known as the Abbotsford Convent. Her adoptive parents have gone on an overseas trip and she is left with her recluse younger sister, a broken heart from the fallout of her first love and her two feisty best friends Cassie and Det.  She receives a letter from her biological grandmother Ellen and her curiosity is sparked, she begins to question who she is and where she came from. Her identity crisis is exacerbated by her friend Det’s unexpected pregnancy- she smokes, drinks and has no plans for the future.

I loved how McCarthy weaved the lives together of these four remarkable women, the lives they lead in very different times and the influence of the maternal genetic line in a family that has become unglued due to laws, societies and personal reasons. I wholeheartedly recommend McCarthy’s novels, I’ve never been disappointed. Must trawl through her backlist, I’ve got a couple of her books still sitting on my TBR shelf.

Overall Rating



The Convent can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

About the author: Maureen McCarthy, the ninth of ten children, was born in country Victoria. An Australian author and scriptwriter, her novels concern the lives of emerging adults, from ages sixteen to early twenties. She has worked as a teacher in Victorian Secondary Schools and has also written scripts for television and educational films. McCarthy has three sons and lives in Melbourne.

This book was read as part of the AWW2012 challenge:


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