Dress Down Sunday: The Dying Light by Alison Joseph

published 1999   chapter 13


Agnes put a bowl of salad down on the table. She went to get French bread, butter, cheese, a bottle of red wine and a bottle opener. She sat down with the wine and opened it, poured two glasses and said, ‘So?’

‘Sweetie, where do I start?’ Athena took the glass she passed her and sipped from it.

‘Last Thursday, I imagine….Did you even get to a restaurant?’

Athena looked at Agnes and shook her head, laughing. ‘You’re terrible,’ Agnes said, laughing too.

‘We went straight back to his place.’


‘What do you think? And it’s funny, because although it took me completely by surprise, I’d still remembered to wear that new underwear I told you about—’

‘What underwear?’

‘Darling, I must have told you about it – I bought it last week. Black, of course, pure silk, kind of lacy, but not overdone, just perfect … ’

‘And by sheer coincidence you were wearing it.’

Athena shrugged. ‘Funny, isn’t it?’

observations: Agnes is a nun. Athena (surely no coincidence her name has the same initial) is her great friend, living a completely different kind of life, one that involves black underwear and new men. Both women enjoy food and wine, and they get together to compare notes on what they are up to. In Sister Agnes’s case this is investigating crimes, for Athena it is her complex lovelife.

Martin Amis complains about novelists ‘putting a thumb on the scales’ to push readers into opinions on their characters, and he probably didn’t have the Sister Agnes series in mind, but he certainly defined the problem: Sister Agnes is rather blatantly shown as complex and deep, and still capable of attracting men, and intellectual. Athena is drawn as slutty, shallow and lightweight. It’s what makes Sister Agnes such a dreary character, which probably isn’t the author’s intention. Athena sounds a lot more fun.

Links on the blog: The book featured before, Sister Agnes dancing beautifully and wearing an attractive little skirt. Of course. More Dress Down Sunday by clicking on the label below, and more nun entries too. The Midwife lived among nuns, but probably wasn’t outshone by them in the same way.

The picture is an advertisement for American Apparel.


  1. Moira - Even from the short bit you've shared here Athena seems to have a lot of personality. And in a larger sense, I can see what you mean about authors 'loading the dice' to make their characters appealing. When it's done smoothly and skillfully it can work well. But it doesn't always.

  2. I like these books but it's been ages since I read one. I can remember this book and I think you're right about the Agnes/Athena relationship.


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