The Anchoress (Hardcover)

A Novel

By Robyn Cadwallader

Sarah Crichton Books, 9780374104252, 320pp.

Publication Date: May 12, 2015

Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (5/11/2015)
Paperback (6/14/2016)
Paperback (4/7/2016)

List Price: 26.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


England, 1255. What could drive a girl on the cusp of womanhood to lock herself away from the world forever?

Sarah is just seventeen when she chooses to become an anchoress, a holy woman shut away in a cell that measures only seven by nine paces, at the side of the village church. Fleeing the grief of losing a much-loved sister in childbirth as well as pressure to marry the local lord's son, she decides to renounce the world--with all its dangers, desires, and temptations--and commit herself to a life of prayer.

But it soon becomes clear that the thick, unforgiving walls of Sarah's cell cannot protect her as well as she had thought. With the outside world clamoring to get in and the intensity of her isolation driving her toward drastic actions, even madness, her body and soul are still in grave danger. When she starts hearing the voice of the previous anchoress whispering to her from the walls, Sarah finds herself questioning what she thought she knew about the anchorhold, and about the village itself.

With the lyricism of Nicola Griffith's Hild and the vivid historical setting of Hannah Kent's Burial Rites, Robyn Cadwallader's powerful debut novel tells an absorbing story of faith, desire, shame, fear, and the very human need for connection and touch. Compelling, evocative, and haunting, The Anchoress is both quietly heartbreaking and thrillingly unpredictable.

About the Author

Robyn Cadwallader has published numerous prizewinning short stories and reviews, as well as a book of poetry and a nonfiction book based on her PhD thesis concerning attitudes toward virginity and women in the Middle Ages. She lives among vineyards outside Canberra, Australia, when not traveling to England for research and visiting ancient archaeological sites along the way. The Anchoress is her first novel.

Praise For The Anchoress: A Novel

“Affecting . . . finely drawn . . . a considerable achievement for a debut novel.” —Sarah Dunant, The New York Times Book Review

“Sarah's story is so beautiful, so rich, so strange, unexpected, and thoughtful-also suspenseful. The narrative examines the question of whether a woman can ever really retreat from the world, or whether the world will always find a way to come after you . . . I loved this book.” —Elizabeth Gilbert

“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.” —Geraldine Brooks

“Cadwallader's vivid period descriptions set a stunning backdrop for this beautiful first novel.” —Booklist (starred review)

“An ambitious debut . . . [offers] pleasures of a subtle and delicate kind . . . Cadwallader plays gracefully with medieval ideas about gender, power and writing” —The Guardian

“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 - like a squint, perhaps - to our present lives.” —The Sydney Morning Herald

“Quiet, assured debut novel . . . Cadwallader is a poet of loneliness; few writers have captured so completely the essential madness that accompanies hermitage, the grayness and sameness of each and every day . . . Sympathetic, fully realized characters and good use of period details make this a winning work of historical fiction.” —Kirkus

“With patience and skill, Cadwallader portrays what Sarah's senses can still apprehend, and of how they remind her of the world so near outside, yet unreachable, that she can remember.” —The Australian

“A truly fine and deeply moving novel, one to save and read again.” —Hudson Valley News

“Cadwallader's debut novel is an elegant and eloquent piece of ventriloquism, her feminist speaking to us from the claustrophobia of her cold dungeon about issues that matter to us still.” —Mail on Sunday

“Careful historical research is blended subtly in this impressive, nuanced debut . . . the prose is fluid, lyrical, and accessible . . . compelling reading.” —Library Journal