Robyn Cadwallader’s debut novel is the story of a young woman in medieval England who chooses to be enclosed as a holy woman; an anchoress, shut into a tiny cell and a life of prayer and fasting. Sarah is just seventeen and grieving for her beloved sister who died in childbirth. She is also fleeing the romantic attentions of the son of the Lord of the Manor. The very idea of this book creates a feeling of claustrophobia for the reader and while this is certainly apparent it never overwhelms the narrative. Although Sarah has chosen to shut herself away she nonetheless features at the centre of village life. Her maids speak to her all day long about the weather and the changing seasons and she also acts as a listening ear for the many village women and through them the author paints a glorious portrait of the seasonal rhythms of life in a medieval village. With the death of her patron Sarah suddenly comes under the legal control of his son the man she had fled from marrying and she comes to realise that despite her enclosure the world is not done with her yet. Cadwallader is an esteemed medieval scholar and she has written a nonfiction book on Saint Margaret of Antioch whose story features in the narrative. The world of the novel is beautifully realised. I recommend this book to fans of Karen Maitland and Ken Follett.
This review first appeared on welovethisbook .com http://www.welovethisbook.com/reviews/anchoress