England, 1255: Sarah is only seventeen when she chooses to become an anchoress, a holy woman shut away in a small cell, measuring seven paces by nine, at the side of the village church. Fleeing the grief of losing her sister in childbirth and the pressure to marry, she decides to renounce the world, with all its dangers, desires and temptations, and to commit herself to a life of prayer and service to God. But even the thick, unforgiving walls of her cell cannot keep the outside world away, and it is soon clear that Sarah’s body and soul are still in great danger . . .
Robyn Cadwallader’s powerful debut novel tells an absorbing story of faith, desire, shame, fear and the very human need for connection and touch. With a poetic intelligence, Cadwallader explores the relationship between the mind, body and spirit in medieval England, in a story that will hold the reader in a spell until the very last page. An absorbing, entirely human and compulsively readable story of faith, desire, shame, fear and the very human need for connection and touch. Powerful, evocative and haunting, The Anchoress is both quietly heartbreaking and thrillingly unpredictable.
Winner: The ACT Book of the Year, People’s Choice Award;
Canberra Critics Circle Award for Fiction 2015
Shortlisted: The Indie Book Awards, Debut Fiction, 2016; The Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature, 2016; The ACT Book of the Year Award, 2016.
Longlisted: ABIA Awards, Literary Fiction Book of the Year, 2016; ABIA Awards Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, 2016.
Highly Commended: ACT Book of the Year, 2016.
Robyn Cadwallader does the real work of historical fiction, creating a detailed, sensuous and richly imagined shard of the past. She has successfully placed her narrator, the anchoress, in that tantalizing, precarious, delicate realm: convincingly of her own distant era, yet emotionally engaging and vividly present to us in our own.
Sarah’s story is so beautiful, so rich, so strange, unexpected and thoughtful – also suspenseful. I loved this book.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things
An intense, atmospheric and very assured debut, this is one of the most eagerly anticipated novels of the year … this one will appeal to readers who loved Hannah Kent’s bestselling Burial Rites.
Caroline Baum, Booktopia
Surprisingly suspenseful … has the quiet intensity of a devotional chant. The contemplative tone of this beautiful novel leaves behind a feeling of calm and restoration, and a deeper sense of the power of the written word and of the myriad ways in which freedom can be experienced.
Australian Book Review
‘Cadwallader is a poet of loneliness; few writers have captured so completely the essential madness that accompanies hermitage.’
Cadwallader’s writing evokes a heightened attention to the senses. You might never read a novel so sensuous yet unconcerned with romantic love. For this alone it is worth seeking out. But also because The Anchoress achieves what every historical novel attempts, reimagining the past while opening a new window … to our present lives.
Eleanor Limprecht, Sydney Morning Herald
A quietly deep and fascinating debut novel proving that communication doesn’t have to be a nonsense of chatter or commotion. The author explores friendship, faith, desire, retreat and the gentle strength of women in the thirteenth century… Entirely captivating, Sarah’s story takes you by the hand and leads you in contemplation, through heartbreak, suffering and understanding. The author has the ability to evoke emotions with a whisper, with a suggestion, letting you reach a level of awareness alongside Sarah and Ranaulf.
‘A remarkable piece of storytelling, fascinating and disturbing.’
UBS Review of Books
‘…gripping, surprising, haunting and compelling’
Australian Women’s Weekly
‘Sympathetic, fully realized characters and good use of period details make this a winning work of historical fiction.’
Cadwallader weaves a gripping and deeply interesting examination of madness, faith, grief, anger and freedom. It is an intimate novel … Cadwallader is especially talented at world-building … She vividly captures the intricacies and sensibilities of the time, but her prose always feels fresh and contemporary. This is a debut Australian novel that sets itself apart from its peers.
Nina Kenwood, Readings Newsletter
This is a powerful novel that highlights the otherness of the Middle Ages, as much as the unchanging human desires and flaws that we can recognise as our own.
Juanita Coulson, The Lady
Cadwallader’s vivid period descriptions set a stunning backdrop for this beautiful first novel as Sarah rejects a larger world that will not allow her to live on her own terms and goes about creating a smaller one that will. Sarah’s path will intrigue readers at the crossroads of historical fiction, spirituality, and even feminism as she faces the internal and external pressures on women of the Middle Ages.
Booklist, starred review
A perceptive and arresting debut, which illuminates the medieval attitude to women and marks Australian author Cadwallader as a writer to watch.
From its medieval cell this debut novel soars into the light.
This is a novel of visions, demons, and ghostly presences, balanced against the world of the flesh and its temptations … It is also a novel of page-turning grace. The language is frequently beautiful, and Sarah’s choices linger long in the mind.