The Anchoress is told from two perspectives. The first is Sarah, told in first-person narrative, who is the new Anchoress in a village in England in 1255. The second perspective is told in third person and is Father Ranaulf who is a young scribe at the nearby priory who is tasked with being Sarah's confessor.
Sarah is only seventeen when she decides to become an Anchoress. Before this novel, I had no idea what an Anchoress even was, so for those also in the dark, it is a holy woman who chooses to take vows and to be locked in a cell in a church until she dies..... gosh doesn't that sound appealing? Sarah is a devout woman, but the death of her sister in child birth and the pressures of her father to marry a rich man force her to make the decision to become an Anchoress. She is supported in this endeavour by an benefactor who pays for her upkeep in exchange for her daily prayers for his soul.
When I first started reading the novel and discovered that it was going to all take place in the one tiny cell that Sarah now called home, and that she was only allowed women visitors who came to speak to her at her window inside the church, I was a little worried that the book would become a bit boring- but this is so far from the truth. The book was gripping and surprising and the fact that it took place mostly in a small cell didn't detract from the wide reach of the story. I found Sarah to be a troubled young woman, trying to escape things in her life that she didn't know how to cope with and so I felt a real sympathy for her. Other times, she absolutely frustrated me, but this feeling was shared with others in the story and so was just part of the wonderful tale that Robyn Cadwallader has created.
The part of the story that I found more infuriating was Father Ranaulf, and the male characters in general. Robyn Cadwallader does so well to portray the plight of women at this time. Nearly all the men in this novel are portrayed as misogynists who think that all women are irrational, hysterical, deceitful and lustful. There were a lot of times in this book that I wanted to jump into the pages and walk right up to these men and take them down a peg or two. I found myself to be angry on behalf of the women in this story, and also a little disappointed that attitudes towards women even in current society hasn't evolved all that much.
Overall, I thought this was a great read and I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for anything else Robyn Cadwallader writes. This book is another one that would make a great Book Club read as there are so many issues that could spark interesting debates and discussions. It's definitely worth a read.
Title: The Anchoress
Author: Robyn Cadwallader
Publisher: Faber & Faber