The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson

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The premise of this one had me quite excited to read it:

The haunting, vivid story of a nun whose past returns to her in unexpected ways, all while investigating a mysterious death and a series of harrowing abuse claims.

A young nun is sent by the Vatican to investigate allegations of misconduct at a Catholic school in Iceland. During her time there, on a gray winter’s day, a young student at the school watches the school’s headmaster, Father August Franz, fall to his death from the church tower.

Two decades later, the child now a grown man, haunted by the past calls the nun back to the scene of the crime. 

A nun goes back to Iceland 20 years later to investigate abuses in the church and school in Iceland? Sounds intriguing right? Unfortunately, due to the convoluted timeline and presentation of the past vs present of Sister Johanna’s time in Iceland, saw this one fall quite short for me.

On Goodreads, a couple of questions were posed below the description of this book. One was: A lesbian nun investigates Catholic Church child abuse, written in the first person by a male author, set in Iceland and France, does it work?

My answer is: sort of.

The part that worked well for me was the story-line about Sister Johanna’s past and her present day life. Her struggle coming to terms with her sexuality when she was younger, and her decision to become a nun were very good. The persistent threats she overcame from a priest on her sexuality, and hearing about her great love for her roommate in Paris were the best parts of this book. Reading about her life at the convent in the present, about her desire to live a quiet and peaceful life with her dog George Harrison and tend to her roses were all wonderful parts to read. So a male author writing a female main character did work out quite well here – for these parts of the book.

However, and it is this issue where there are also a number of questions on Goodreads as well, which concerns the timeline and the story-line about the investigation of abuses happening in Iceland. This is where it was very convoluted for me. If I could underline those italics to further emphasize this, I would. There are never times/years stated at the start of chapters so it is very difficult to place the time when Johanna was first in Iceland or when it was 20 years later? This is not fleshed out well At All in my opinion and was a frustrating aspect when reading this book. And based on the questions on Goodreads, this was an issue for other readers as well.

Many times I felt like some of the text was hidden – or to better explain what I mean by that – it was almost as though Olfasson had thoughts in his head, but failed to transfer them onto paper. There were too many times where I was tilting my head to one side questioning what was just said, how did that thread fit or attach itself to another? So there just seemed to be too many dangling threads left hanging too often.

So, overall, a real shame, because I really did like Sister Johanna a whole lot but the part of the story making up the main premise fell so very short. How disappointing!

However, I do have to say listening to the audio was fantastic! This is how I originally started with it, and it was a definite highlight. Jane Copland is so perfectly suited to narrate this, to speak the Icelandic words flawlessly, and to give Sister Johanna such personality. I’m looking to see what other audiobooks she narrates because I so enjoyed her voice. Without a doubt it was the audiobook that made this more enjoyable for me, but the convoluted timeline took too much away to make it a truly enjoyable read.