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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Church of Solitude

Grazia Deledda

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To purchase The Church of Solitude

Title: The Church of Solitude
Author: Grazia Deledda
Genre: Novel
Written: 1936 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 173 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Church of Solitude - US
The Church of Solitude - UK
The Church of Solitude - Canada
  • Italian title: La chiesa della solitudine
  • Translated and with an Afterword by E. Ann Matter

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Our Assessment:

B : intriguing if not entirely successful character study

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Church of Solitude begins with the central character returning to her world a changed woman:

     Maria Concezione left the small hospital of her town on the seventh of December, the vigil of her saint's day. She had undergone a serious operation: her left breast had been removed.
       She never discusses her ailment; indeed she hides it from almost everyone. It has left her less than whole, shattering any thoughts the twenty-eight year old woman might have had of marriage or children. It also has left her with a death sentence, her doctor telling her ("with Olympian and crystalline cruelty") that:
the disease will take some time to come back. Ten years, maybe even twelve.
       The disease, though never mentioned by name, is clearly cancer, and Deledda knew of what she wrote, herself dying the year the novel was published of breast cancer.
       Maria isn't quite up to love, in any case, burdened by considerable guilt. Her first love came to a gruesome end which she has never gotten over. Recently, a new man has started courting her, Aroldo Aroldi, and though shocked by the transformation in her after the operation, he refuses to give up on her.
       Maria also feels guilty about her family: the arguably ill-gotten small fortune and house passed down to her, as well as her father's not always moral ways. She now lives humbly with her mother in the family home, half house, half church (a "strange refuge, half holy, half outlaw", a neat idea), trying to do good. Unfortunately, the fact that she has some money is well-known, and so there are others trying to set up an advantageous marriage.
       Deledda does well in describing Maria's inner turmoil: even as she looks to retreat from the world she's tempted by it, and though she suppresses her heart's desires most of the time she cannot help but consider them. She is devout and good, and yet her faith can only guide her so far; it is something to retreat into, and yet it does not offer all the answers she needs.
       The Church of Solitude offers an odd mix of melodrama and pious reflection. Many of the characters are very forthright, with even the manipulative Felice Giordano (who is trying to marry Maria to one of his grandsons) almost entirely obvious in his intentions and methods. Nevertheless, it is secrecy -- especially Maria's lies about what really ails her -- that complicate so much. Focussed on Maria, Aroldo's frustration and despair are seen at something of a distance; it is Maria's story, not his
       The Church of Solitude offers a decent story from small-town, pre-war Italian life, with considerable action and intrigue (though much of this is presented, in line with the rest of the novel, in a very subdued manner). There are some excellent exchanges -- the characters come alive in their often very direct speech -- but most of the male characters, even the significant ones, seem constructed solely for Maria to react to, and are less than fully realised. Maria's illness (and lost breast) loom large over the entire novel, but Deledda does not over-emphasise them: these are facts, and ones that cannot be spoken of openly (and of which practically none of the characters are aware), but regardless, life goes on.
       A solid, if not entirely successful work.

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The Church of Solitude: Reviews: Grazia Deledda: Other books by Grazia Deledda under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Grazia Deledda (1871-1936) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1926.

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