Renegade Nuns by Lisa Jones is a novel about a woman who seeks answers after her sister’s death, and whose quest brings her into contact with a group of powerful nuns. The novel is both murder mystery and fantasy, and there is a third genre I will assign to it as well—it’s a radical feminist novel. That is, it’s a novel that describes male violence against women and the power of sisterhood in a way that only a radical feminist can.
The story of the death of fictional Riva Pine and her sister Becky’s journey to find out what happened to her is based on a true story. Jones’s real-life sister died the way Riva Pine did—from an apparent fall while doing yoga. As preposterous as it may seem, the police and the coroner declared it factual that she died from falling over while doing a yoga pose, as her husband claimed. Jones wrote this book around the more plausible explanation—that her husband killed her, and got away with murder. The novel is a work of fiction, and certainly the supernatural aspects of it are not at all real, but I can’t help thinking that there may be more truth in this novel than in the explanation that a woman died from a cracked skull from doing yoga. How many times has a man’s fiction been recorded as fact by other men while the truth, spoken by a woman, is considered fictional?
Jones describes the relationship between fictional Riva Pine and her husband Mack with expert level feminist awareness. Mack is a manipulative parasite, living off his wife’s earnings and taking everything he can from her, all the while knowing how to fake being a loving husband. Although there are no obvious signs of abuse, due to Mack’s expert façade, he slowly consumes his wife by taking all her energy, love, and money. There is nothing about her that he does not take for himself. Riva’s sister Becky sees him for what he is, doesn’t fall for his manipulations, and does everything she can to find out what really happened the day Riva died.
When Becky goes on a quest for information, she uncovers a group of nuns with supernatural powers. Soon she finds herself involved in their plans, and learning about them and their work as she goes along. These are not regular Catholic nuns, of course, they are renegade nuns. They are free-thinkers, healers, and rebels, using their powers to solve the problems with the Y chromosome and create opportunities for the planet as a whole to find peace. Their powers come from their own selves, and from their interactions with each other. Some of the nuns are lesbians and they use physical touch with each other in their healing. They remind me of radical feminist spirituality—the idea that women are powerful and magical and that we become even more so when we work together in sisterhood.
I found the nun characters delightful to read about. They prompted me to talk to Lisa Jones about her own beliefs. She says she became a radical feminist around 2010 or 2011 after decades of being a Buddhist. She read Mary Daly and felt that she was “turning on the lights.” That led to her reading more radical feminist books. She also has taken an interest in Christian mysticism. She says:
I met several women who claimed to channel Mary Magdalene or to be her reincarnation. Instead of reacting with knee-jerk derision, I tried to listen to how they were responding to patriarchy. I also met a group of women whom I call the “angel whisperers” — lightworkers, shamanists, herbalists — women who work to heal the world but don’t necessarily think in terms of feminist analysis. Later, a friend suggested that I read Sonia Johnson’s book “The SisterWitch Conspiracy,” which I found outrageous and profoundly heartening. I felt that the book merged feminist analysis with angel whispering. It gave me hope for a better future on this planet.
This is very much what comes through in her renegade nun characters. It’s an optimistic view of the world—that magical women are working on healing the planet already, like a group of feminist angels.
I’d like to thank Lisa Jones for writing this book and for providing me with a box of free copies. If you are someone who knows me, just ask and I’ll give you one!