The Anchoress, by Robyn Callander,
The Anchoress, by Robyn Callander. Sarah Crichton Books (2015), 320 pages.
AUSTRALIAN WOMEN WRITERS
An engaging novel about a young woman in the thirteenth century who becomes an anchoress only to be tormented with doubts and the difficulty of putting down connections to those suffering in the world outside her cell.
In medieval England, some religious women showed their devotion by renouncing the world. A few became anchoresses, shut in solitary cells attached to churches and vowing to remain there for their entire lives. Australian author, Robyn Callander, has written a novel a young woman who has chosen such a life. Remarkably she brings her to life and makes her relevant for readers today. The novel open’s with Sarah’s “enclosure” into the tiny cell where she has chosen to spend the rest of her life. Through flashbacks we see why she has chosen this path over the other options available to her. We share her moments of panic and her extremely limited contact with other human beings or even fresh air.
One need not be religious to enjoy The Anchoress. From the start Sarah is a sympathetic character whose doubts and questions are very real and even contemporary. Committed to her religious beliefs, she seeks to spend her life in prayer and meditation only to find that solitude does not protect her from confusion and doubts. She asks classic questions about why good people suffer. For her, worldly temptation is not her desire for pleasure and diversion but to assist suffers in the world outside her cell. Callander wisely provides no easy answers.
I recommend this novel to thoughtful readers everywhere.