Historical fiction gravitates toward the powerful, but real history is different. The Corner That Held Them is an attempt at real historical fiction: a portrait of a nunnery from its construction in the 12th century to the novel's end point in 1382. The story’s enormous cast trundles through their lives in search of meaning, but fate has no answer for them. Some die for no reason, others fail to achieve their ambitions. This book is a bracing and even alienating experience for those accustomed to the comforts of plot and pay-off. But those who persevere will be rewarded by a narrative that makes everything else in its genre feel a little half-hearted.