Title: The Cloister Walk
Author: Kathleen Norris
Release Date: April 2, 1996
Publisher: Riverhead Trade
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5
The Cloister Walk is a quiet, contemplative work of non-fiction about Kathleen Norris’ life as a Benedictine oblate, which is another word for an associate. She committed herself to a Benedictine monastery in Minnesota and lived there, away from her husband, for two years.
The portrait of monastery life in The Cloister Walk is fascinating. Though many may wonder what appeal it holds for people, Norris really makes it clear why people choose to lead cloistered lives. She presents a very unique view of monastics of the Catholic church and shows why they are still relevant. Often, the vow of celibacy for monks and nuns is ridiculed in present day society. Norris presents her own take on that tradition and discusses why it is actually beneficial to these spiritual people.
This is a book that will make you feel peaceful as you are reading it. It’s such a quiet novel, and it is beautifully written. Norris’ main line of work was poetry before writing The Cloister Walk, and that really shows. This book is its own work of poetry, gorgeous and extremely serene.
Norris goes on a personal journey in The Cloister Walk, trying to awaken the spirituality within her. She wasn’t a religious person before committing to the Benedictines as an oblate – this book is a chronicle of her realization of her faith. Though her discussions of spirituality are relevant to all, it is Christians (and specifically Catholics) who will get the most from this book. However, the self-contemplation and questioning will appeal to readers of many faiths.
Norris discusses the Catholic Church throughout The Cloister Walk. Though she never says it outright, in a lot of ways, Norris is refuting the charge that the Catholic Church is out of date and no longer relevant. She discusses scripture in detail, showing how it can be applied to everyday life. Through her discussion of monastic life, she attempts to display the relevance of the Catholic Church as a whole. It’s an extremely interesting argument, and one I believe she executes successfully.
The Cloister Walk was an enjoyable book, with some minor flaws. Often times it is self-indulgent, and it can be unbelievably slow sometimes. However, the meandering tone of the novel is a wonderful metaphor for Norris’ journey through her spirituality. It’s a beautiful little book, and though it’s definitely not for everyone, I am certainly glad that I gave it a try.