RitaSkeeter's Reviews > The Anchoress

The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2015, historical

What would lead you to leave your life, your world possessions, even your sense of self behind, and enter a cell nine steps wide for the rest of your natural life?

Sarah, fresh from the grief of her sister's death, made the decision to enter the anchorage, and states Here, inside these walls, Christ would heal me of my grief, help me let go of my woman's body, it's frailty and desire.

To find God and to let go of her grief, Sarah needed to remove herself from all earthly concerns and lock herself away. She spends her days praying, and examining whether the level of deprivation is sufficient, or whether there is more she can do. And so, in pursuit of light, Sarah is locked in darkness - literally and metaphorically. We don't see Sarah obtain rapture, enlightenment, or understanding for her prayer. Instead we see her, for a period, fall into a hallucinatory turmoil from which she struggles to free herself. But still Sarah continues her self-imposed imprisonment, despite challenges from a child who told her,
I can think of God in the sun. It's easy. I just close my eyes.

I have the impression that Sarah did not enter the anchorhold for a truly religious purpose. I believe Sarah entered hoping the prayer, the deprivation, and being removed from people would save her heart from further grief. Sarah, listen to me. Protect your heart by protecting the senses. Deny your body, deny its pleasures. Deny your belly. Ultimately, it is further grief that frees her and allows her to be at peace with her final decision. The author is not explicit, however, regarding Sarah's internal motivators for entering the anchorhold, and the reader is left to draw their own conclusions.

The author has deft skill in imparting information without heavy information dumping, but for a 21st century reader, this book is likely to ask more questions than answer them. Can we, in this day and age, truly understand the call to willingly enter a cell, inflict extreme deprivation on our selves, and do so for the rest of you life - never to leave except in death? I don't understand it, really I don't. My failure to understand is not, I think a failing of the book, but rather a natural response of someone in the 21st century responding to something so very foreign.

But for all the difficulties understanding Sarah's decision to enter, people are people regardless of the century. We see people seeking connection, support, help. We see women be victims of men with no escape. We see Sarah try to lock herself away from this, only to see that she can't, and as much as the village needs her - she needs them as well.

We see Sarah grow from someone who is selfish in her faith. All must meet Sarah's needs, and standards of behaviour. We see her refuse to help people, such as a leper. But by the end, we see her acknowledge her place in the village, and to want to serve them.

Something that would have assisted when reading this book, would have been a floor plan of the cell and pictures of some of the features, such as a squint, that were mentioned. I was able to gain some idea through Google images (https://www.google.com.au/search?q=an...), however I'm not sure I still really understand the relationship of Sarah's cell to the 'parlour' she mentions and so on. In guessing that most readers, like me, wont know a great deal about this subject matter, explanatory notes and images would have been very useful.

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Reading Progress

May 16, 2015 – Started Reading
May 16, 2015 – Shelved
May 16, 2015 –
page 40
May 21, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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message 1: by Carolyn (new) - added it

Carolyn I heard Robyn Cadwallader talk about this book on a panel at the Sydney Writer's Festival. It sounded like an interesting story for a book, but a horrible way to spend your life.

message 2: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne Yes I've heard about this one too.. Looking forward to your review Rita.

message 3: by Dale (new)

Dale Harcombe I simply could not imagine it!

message 4: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne Great review Rita! I don't want to read it but I've learned something today.

message 5: by Dale (new)

Dale Harcombe RitaSkeeter wrote: "Dale wrote: "I simply could not imagine it!"

I couldn't do it. It sounds like hell on earth."

Same Rita. Probably won't read it either. Too much imagination. End up claustrophobic.

☼♄Jülie  I will be reading this during my June challenge shortly Rita so I won't read all of your review until I've finished, but have been really looking forward to it for some time.

☼♄Jülie  Thanks for the links Rita, like you I want more info..not that the book falls short..I am fascinated by so much of it that I keep running off to Google for more info. I am especially interested to know more about St.Margaret now!
I still have 20% to read so I'd better get on with it ;)

☼♄Jülie  Rita *wants a quick quotes quill* Skeeter wrote: "It's quite an odd situation to read about isn't it? I just can't imagine doing it willingly. Even leaving my claustrophobia aside, it would be my worst nightmare."

At least she had a couple of books! Seriosly though, it would be a very big decision, you would have to be seriously devout.

message 9: by ☼♄Jülie  (last edited Jun 22, 2015 05:26AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

☼♄Jülie  Rita *wants a quick quotes quill* Skeeter wrote: "☼♄Jülie wrote: "Rita *wants a quick quotes quill* Skeeter wrote: "It's quite an odd situation to read about isn't it? I just can't imagine doing it willingly. Even leaving my claustrophobia aside, ..."

Maybe just the winter challenge! ;)
Oh I totally agree about her initial motives. I just couldn't imagine doing it if you weren't committed to it, which I think she was. It was a steep learning curve though.

message 10: by Carolyn (new) - added it

Carolyn Were Anchoresses able to change their minds after they had been locked away?

Claire I wouldn't normally read a book like this but I bought it after hearing Robyn Cadwallader speak at the Perth Writers Festival. Very glad I did!

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