Set in a fictitious place called Egret Island off the coast of South Carolina, Kidd's book tells the story of Jessie, who falls in love with a monk when she travels to visit her mother, Nelle, a cook for the island's religious brotherhood. Estranged from her mother for the previous five years Jessie is called back to her childhood home by a family friend, Kat, who gives Jessie the disturbing news that her mother has purposefully cut off one of her fingers.
Father Dominick is the librarian in this work. It is through him that Jessie's paramour (Whit) learns that Nelle had taken two books out of the library before chopping off her digit. Legenda Aurea: Readings on the Saints contained the story of St. Eudoria a twelfth-century prostitute who cut off her finger and planted it in a wheat field. Indigenous Religious Traditions relates the story of Sedna, an Inuit sea goddess whose fingers are severed by her father as she tries to hold onto a boat. All ten of her fingers become sea creatures.
I was most intrigued by Sedna's story. When Paloma was young we often read the picture book Song of Sedna together. The version we had was a bit scary, but not as gruesome as the one depicted in Kidd's book. The story of St. Eudoria, by the way, was an invention of the author.
Well, I guess this just goes to show that books are dangerous. If Nelle had not found those books she probably would still have all of her appendages. The idea that reading can be harmful is reinforced by The Reverend Father, Dom Anthony, who forbids Whit (aka Brother Thomas) from reading anything by the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer when it was discovered the Bonhoeffer's writings were feeding Thomas' doubts.
The library is also the site of one clandestine meeting between the forbidden lovers. I don't think that Kidd intended to write a book with the purpose of demonstrating the dangers lurking in libraries, but when reading only the passages that highlight books, the message is clear.