MacLennan-Dunphy launches new novel ‘The Silence of the Vessel’

WHYCOCOMAGH: The latest novel from a local author is available for sale.

The book launch for Brenda MacLennan-Dunphy’s second novel, The Silence of the Vessel, was held at the Whycocomagh Waterfront Centre on November 21. In addition to doing a reading from the new work, MacLennan-Dunphy also took questions from the audience.

The Silence of the Vessel is set in Mabou, and centers around three women, who are brought together by faith, family and fate.

“Sometimes women, don’t get listened to,” MacLennan-Dunphy pointed out. “I think it will spark conversations that are maybe good to have.”

The novel reflects many realities of today’s world while dealing with consequences echoing from the past, according to a press release issued by the author.

“There are certainly elements both of what’s happening in the community today and what has happened in the past. There’s some darkness, there’s definitely some darkness in this story. It’s not a romance,” the author said. “This is more of dealing with some darknesses and trying to find your way to find community and hope by reaching out and helping other people.

“It goes from the modern day sensibilities of dealing with proms, grad marches and drunk teenagers, to kind of going back to the 1940s in Dominion,” MacLennan-Dunphy described. “There’s a wide range of ways of looking at things.”

Elspeth, recently retired from Cape Breton University’s Celtic Culture Department, is not sure how to deal with her teenage daughter Cecelia’s outdated and strangely troubling post-secondary plans. Maybe the spiritual inclination Cecelia has to become a nun would have been welcomed in the past, but with all the scandals the Catholic Church has been going through during recent decades, all Elspeth can do is wonder if it is too early in the day for a glass of wine before responding.

“I think that the teenager in the novel too is not your typical teenager,” MacLennan-Dunphy said. “I think she sees the world as needing help and she wants to do something other than just go off to university and take a B.A. or kinesiology degree, she wants to really help people.”

As she tries to understand her strange desire to become a nun, Cecelia befriends an aging Sister of the Notre Dame congregation at the convent in Mabou.

“My sister went to school out in Mabou, so there were a lot of girls who lived at the convent and went to school through their teenage years,” MacLennan-Dunphy noted. “My sister would often come home with stories about the convent, and girls, and what they’d be getting up to at the convent.”

MacLennan-Dunphy said she has always been fascinated by those who’ve given their lives to the church. She noted that in her father’s family, two aunts became nuns and one uncle became a priest.

“I was found that building kind of mysterious and nuns in general, I’ve always found them interesting people,” she said. “I have two aunts who were nuns and they’ve led interesting lives. They’re a group of our society who is leaving; there are not going to be many of them anymore. I felt I wanted to write a story about them. Then it kind of evolved from there.”

Madonna, a fitting name for a woman who lived a life devoted to God, is in a time of transition as well, struggling with ailments of an aging mind and body. Because of Cecelia’s interest, she tries to piece together the reasons she became a bride of Christ.

Contributed photos
Pictured is author Brenda MacLennan-Dunphy (right) with her aunt, Sister Theresa MacLennan.

At the launch, Lisa Cameron performed “The Song of Bernadette,” by Leonard Cohen; a song which was later adapted into a movie and which plays a part in the book.

“That was the first movie the nun saw when she was a child and kind of inspired her to be a nun,” MacLennan-Dunphy explained. “The young teenager who befriends her finds the song.”

MacLennan-Dunphy’s past work includes plays John Archie and Nellie, Displacement, The Weddin’ Dance, and The Reiteach. Her novel, based around John Archie and Nellie’s story, was published by Pottersfield Press in 2018.

“Every bit of this is a Cape Breton book for a lot of insights, and the way people talk, and the way people respond to each other,” MacLennan-Dunphy said of her new novel. “It’s very much an area book that I think will capture something that’s happening now. Even now, there are young people who are going and becoming nuns and priests, and it’s an interesting inspiration that they have.”

To facilitate COVID-19 requirements, the public was asked to reserve a spot at Saturday’s book launch but books are on sale by cash, cheque or e-transfer. MacLennan-Dunphy will also have a table at the Farmer’s Market at the Waterfront Center on November 28.

“It is exciting,” she added. “It’s a hard time to do anything like this, and I totally understand if people don’t feel comfortable coming, but I’m hoping that we can make people feel there’s enough space and that we can share in a little excitement and joy in getting this done.”