'Then she could have sworn she heard a noise, a drag like a wet skirt on the floor, but the room was empty.'
Rumer Godden's novels begin with a journey. In Black Narcissus the five English nuns travelling to Mopu in Northern India think they will establish a school for making lace, a clinic and teach local children to read and write. Instead the Himalayan altitude begins to work on them and the Darjeeling wind which smells of tea and orange blossom evokes desire and memories.
Sister Clodagh cannot stop thinking about her former love in Ireland, Sister Blanche yearns for a baby, Sister Philippa becomes obsessed with the gardens and poor sad, mad Sister Ruth becomes fixated on Mr Dean the macho site agent.
Only the older, wiser Sister Briony keeps it together but even she can't prevent Sister Blanche from making a fatal mistake which turns the local people against the nuns. Then Sister Ruth makes her move on Mr Dean.
Virago have just published this lovely edition and I'm very much looking forward to the BBC production tonight. I hope they do justice to a wonderful storyteller. Rumer Godden went on to write a more sophisticated study of a convent in In This House of Brede, one of my favourite novels, but nothing quite captures the gothic tension of Black Narcissus.