In this book, Bridie is forced out of her convent by changes in the Catholic Church in the 1970's and into the home of her brother Kevin and sister-in-law Eleanor, who happens to be a Protestant. Throughout pretty much the entire novel Eleanor and her entire immediate family are constantly worried about how long Bridie will be staying with them and how much she will disrupt their lives. While I can understand their concern, I imagine having your convent closed and being forced to re-enter the secular world is probably a lot more distressing than anything that Bridie can and did do as a house guest (well, other than things said during the numerous family fights, but that's a different situation).
The truth is that Bridie was never really treated as a welcome guest and was extended no sort of compassion whatsoever. Rather than Eleanor stopping to think about what it might mean to Bridie to have this big, encompassing, and unexpected life change and realizing that Bridie might need some time to get through the shock and grieve, she just assumes that Bridie will act like a normal person who is simply visiting relatives. Because of this, even despite Bridie's "odd" and somewhat presumptuous behavior (she cleaned Eleanor's kitchen for example), I actually sympathized more with Bridie the "intruder" than Eleanor the "intruded upon."
I almost wonder how much of this awkwardness could have been avoided if Eleanor had simply left Bridie alone until Bridie was comfortable enough to socialize on her own terms. If she was truly to be treated as a family member in the household, then this is what would have happened naturally. Instead because she was treated as a guest and interloper, Eleanor was constantly trying to foist niceties upon someone who didn't want them. Eleanor is not only put off by this, but shocked when Bridie actually tries to do anything to cope with her new surroundings, including removing all decorative touches to her guest room. Had Eleanor been as compassionate and thoughtful as she was supposedly presented to us I think she might have been able to put herself in Bridie's shoes and understood that Bridie was merely trying to regain some kind of control over her surroundings at a time when she felt she had none. Not to mention, Eleanor would have respected Bridie's privacy and wouldn't have snooped in the first place, regardless of whether or not it was her own home.
On the other hand, most of Bridie's behavior might have been avoided if clear rules had been set up before she arrived. Bridie, coming from a strict order of nuns, might actually have coped better if she had household rules to follow rather than going from a highly disciplined daily schedule to complete chaos. At the very least Eleanor and Kevin needed to get their acts together and figure out that they were not responsible for Bridie's behavior and to stop blaming each other or trying to get the other to go talk to her about it. If it was bothering them both, they should have approach Bridie together and talked as three adults about what they could do to make Bridie feel more comfortable and what Bridie could do in turn to be a better guest.
This may seem a bit upfront and rude, but when taking in long term guests, becoming a room mate, or entering into any other kind of potentially stressful living situation, it is much preferable to everyone trying to tiptoe around while still managing to make each other miserable. If people aren't willing to change their daily habits, etc., it then becomes much easier for one party to say, "Okay, well thanks for giving me a shot, can I stay for a couple of days while I figure out alternate arrangements?" Readers, have you had any bad house guests who have stayed with you for an indeterminate amount of time? What was your solution to the problem? Did you just wait it out? How did that work for you?
My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: I won this from a Forgotten Bookmarks contest.