Troubador The Causeway

Released: 02/03/2009

eISBN: 9781780887616

Format: eBook

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The Causeway

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A Scottish teenager, Marion, arrives at a convent on the island of Ischia. The year is 1798. The convent is death-factory where novices and nuns are cynically exposed to disease, physical abuse and privation. Few survive. Why were young women exposed to such abuse? Because all too often unwanted daughters--sick, crippled, pregnant or just unmarriageable--blocked family ambition. The system was simple: the convent collected the postulant dowry: the family was rid of an inconvenience. (The convent still lies in the Bay of Naples. Today it is a hotel.) Threatened with starvation, merciless flogging and mental torture at the hands of her confessor and the disciplinatrice, Marion has no way out. An older nun, Sister Teresa, takes pity on the young victim. On Christmas night, she snatches Marion from a whipping in the punishment cell, and the two women escape.

Beyond the convent walls, Ischia is in turmoil: the Jacobin revolution in Naples is boiling, and Nelson’s fleet has just abandoned Naples to mob violence. The women are trapped on the island; scheming their escape, a bond of trust and a strong sexual affinity form between them. Marion’s Jacobite spirit is drawn to the revolutionaries led by Carlo and to the deserters from the British navy who fight alongside them. Marion and Carlo embark on a tentative love affair. Teresa becomes close to Bart, a Cockney deserter. But none of this bears fruit. During a raid against Ischia by Captain Foote of the Seahorse, the two women finally escape the island, their lives united now by an abiding but sadly unfulfilled love.

The Causeway was born in a place of torture, sickness and death. The place is real, and to this day it has a chill that almost stops the heart. In the Bay of Naples, on the island of Ischia stands a convent, Santa Maria della Consolazione. Until the British navy destroyed it, the convent belonged to the Poor Clares. Saint Clare instructed that no nun should leave her convent even in death. Because the convent stood high on a rock overlooking the island, the dead nuns of Santa Maria could not be buried in the customary way, so their bodies were left to rot in a network of cellars. To the religious mind, the rotting, flyblown corpses are a useful memento mori. To help young nuns forget the temptations of this world, they were ordered to keep nightly vigil in this tomb. Nearby were punishment cells where nuns were flogged for every deviation from correct practice, for example for speaking to another nun. The discipline, the exposure to disease, the frugal diet and the absolute isolation from the outside world broke the spirit of most young women. Those who resisted, died. In time, the convent acquired a reputation as a dumping ground for unwanted daughters: the illegitimate, the handicapped, the unmarriageable for whatever reason. In exchange for a postulant dowry, the convent agreed to take care of a girl for the rest of her life—however short that might be. It was an evil trade conducted by professional killers with the support of the church.

After my first visit to this fearful place, it stayed with me. My imagination peopled it with the savage women who must have run it and with the slaves who were their victims. And with one girl who escaped. It was some years before she took her final shape: a Scottish Catholic girl of seventeen, Marion, sent away by her father to die because she was in the way of his dynastic ambitions. In the story Marion arrives at the convent, rebels against the regime, and escapes with another nun, Teresa, who is stirred by Marion’s plight. They escape in the year 1778, one day after Admiral Nelson rescues Emma Hamilton together with the King and Queen of Naples from the revolutionary Neapolitan mob. Revolution, the Italian Jacobins, Nelson’s navy and a burgeoning love between Marion and Teresa all delay or assist Marion’s final escape from the island.

The story is about corruption and liberation, hypocrisy and honesty, convention and revolution. But those are abstract terms. Really it is about Marion, a young girl sentenced to death by an evil establishment, finding in herself the courage and the strength to break free.

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Jim Pinnells

Jim Pinnells is a contract consultant, claims manager and international arbitrator, with clients in every part of the world: Russia, the United States, Sweden, South Africa, Vietnam, Venezuela to name a few. Working on projects such as oil refineries, power stations, pipelines and railways, Jim has been involved in many real-life stories, most of which will never be told. In his professional fields (law and project management), he has published extensively in English and in German. Fiction, of course, is something else. All his life Jim has written novels and plays, perhaps a dozen in all, to amuse himself on his travels. The subjects range from terrorism in nineteenth-century Russia, through an Israeli plot to close the Suez Canal that goes catastrophically wrong, to a human blood farm for rare blood types in Thailand. None of this material has been published.

So: now is the time and Matador is the vehicle. The Causeway is Jim’s first published novel.

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