Stone Yard Devotional

Stone Yard Devotional by Charlotte Wood is not a plot-driven book, though some ‘things’ happen. Essentially, a woman who does not believe in God joins a reclusive monastery. Through a collection of her memories and journal-like reflections, the reader gently tip-toes around and through a series of deep questions listed within the back cover blurb.

Pocket Bookclub explored them too. Asking ourselves each question. Warning: there are no answers!

Can a person be truly good? Does truly good mean perfect? No one is perfect. Does truly good mean we can recognise our prejudices and therefore put them aside? The unnamed protagonist in the novel has a mother she remembers as truly good, without the prejudices of the rest of the town, even if justified (eg the Moonies), she has a ‘reverence for the earth itself’, visits the needy, helps Vietnamese refugees settle, and yet, no one in town, not even this mother, was there for Helen Parry.

What is forgiveness? What is the purpose of forgiveness? Is it so the person who is asking for forgiveness feels better? There is the dying woman who refuses to see the man on the 12-step program because she does not have the energy to pretend forgiveness, the saint whose mother forgave her murderer, and the protagonist who can’t forgive herself for not being mature enough to say the right things when her mother was dying. Is it easier to forgive someone else than to forgive yourself?

Is the loss of hope a moral failure? Bookclub struggled most with this question because of the word ‘moral’ but when I reflect on the protagonist (a name would be helpful!) who has walked away from her career as an environmental activist, walked away from her husband for no given reason, left her life, disappeared without disappearing, I can understand the word moral. If loss of hope has caused her to give up then she has not fulfilled her moral obligations to the environment, to her relationships, to herself.

Can the business of grief ever really be finished? This is a big one, right? I think grief changes flavour over time. The waves may come decades apart and the loss appears with different angles and different meanings. It may be less overwhelming but never finished. But this is so personal, I can’t speak for others. The protagonist is still processing her grief, and the bones that arrive from Thailand elicit anger-flavoured grief, and there is a flat silence

I used to think there was a ‘before’ and ‘after’ most things that happened to a person; that a fence of time and space could separate even quite catastrophic experience from the ordinary whole of life. But now I know that with a great devastation of some kind, there is no before or after. Even when the commotion of the crisis has settled, it is still there, like that dam water, insisting, seeping, across the past and the future.

Stone Yard Devotional, Charlotte Wood

If Goodreads is any indication, readers will either find Stoneyard Devotional boring (nothing happens except a mouse plague) or they will find it deeply moving and contemplative. The language is simple but beautiful and while the pace is slow the book can be read quickly. It is almost like reading a prayer. Earnest, quiet, internal.

We have read three of Wood’s books and they have all been popular and memorable. Interestingly both previous reads (The Weekend & The Natural Way of Things) lost the end-of-year vote to novels by Lucy Treloar (Wolf Island & Salt Water)

As an aside, and on the theme, our cuntail for the night was made with chartreuse, a herbal liqueur made by Carthusian monks since 1737.

The Pocket Bookclub raged against a book of literary cocktails that only included quotes from men. We embarked on a cunttail project, inventing a cunttail for every book we read in 2022. We made a literary cunttail book! What’s wrong with the word cunt? Nothing

Literary Cunttails 2022 is hand-drawn by Miriama and includes every recipe. Get a free copy.

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