I don’t think anyone has tried to get under the skin of a group of monks in quite this way before. Nancy Klein Maguire closely follows the lives of five young men – Paddy, Hans, Bernie, Chuck and Dave – over five years between 1960 and 1965 as they each test their vocation as a monk at the St Hugh’s Charterhouse in Parkminster, Sussex. Founded 900 years ago by St Bruno in the mountain wilderness near Grenoble, the Carthusians are the most strictly enclosed order in the Catholic Church, living alone and in almost perpetual silence and prayer. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton described them as
the ones who have gone the furthest, climbed the highest, lifted themselves up above all the others, out of this world and concealed in God. All day long, except for offices in choir, the Carthusian is with God alone.
We learn from the start that four of the five young men at the centre of the story find relatively quickly that they are not cut out to be Carthusians, and the one who stays goes on to enjoy a slightly rocky career in the order. But all of them