Robyn Cadwallader, Book of colours (#BookReview)

Robyn Cadwallader, The book of coloursWhat makes historical fiction worth reading for me is the exploration of universal ”truths”. Fortunately, Robyn Cadwallader’s second novel, Book of colours, does this, albeit I wish that some of the universals – gender inequity, class (meaning social and economic inequity), and fear of foreigners – were no longer universal! The book explores other more general universals, too, such as love, friendship, loyalty, courage, suspicion, fear. However, historical fiction needs something more of course. It needs to authentically evoke an historical time and place, preferably through engaging characters. Cadwallader does this too.

Book of colours is set in mediaeval England, specifically between 1320 and 1322, and concerns an illuminated book of hours. The narrative is structured into two main chronological threads – the story of the book’s creation and the people creating it, from late 1320 to 1322, and that of the noblewoman who commissioned it, Lady Mathilda Fitzjohn, after she has it in her hands, from May to September 1322. She lives in Hertfordshire, while the limners’ atelier is located in London, so we also see city and country life during this period. As the limner Gemma writes:

…let all of life be there in the book, from high to low, animal and monster, story and joke, devotion and dance … (from The art of illumination)

Now, I particularly like it when historical fiction writers provide some historical context to their story, preferably in an afterword, along with some references or sources. This Cadwallader does, with a four-page Author’s Note and two-plus pages of Further Reading. She explains the historical background, including that the period she chose encompasses the Great Famine and the Dispenser War, and she discusses where the facts are less well documented. The meaning of those bawdy or confronting marginal images in books of hours, for example, is little understood. Also, says Cadwallader, no women limners are listed in this period, but there is evidence that women did, in fact, undertake illumination. These notes support the novel’s political, socioeconomic and sociocultural context.

The story is told third person through three main perspectives: Mathilda’s and those of two of the atelier workers, journeyman-near-master Will Asshe and master-in-work-if-not-in-name Gemma Dancaster. The atelier is owned by Gemma and her husband John – well, actually, given the times, it is “owned” by her husband, but he inherited it from her father. Prefacing the atelier-based chapters are sections from the book The art of illumination which Gemma secretly writes for her apprentice son Nick.

“both beauty and chaos”

Towards the end of the novel, the widowed Mathilda – her rebel Marcher husband having been killed while fighting the Dispensers – realises that life is not “ordered” as she had thought but is, like the “delicate, bawdy and capering creatures” in her book, “both beauty and chaos.” It is this “beauty and chaos” that Cadwallader captures through her vivid characters. The atelier thread starts with the arrival in London of Will, a limner who is escaping something that happened in Cambridge where he had lived and done his training. As the story progresses we discover, of course, what that was, but all I’ll say here is that he’d been associating with a student named Simon who had filled his head with ideas about equality. These ideas make Will angry about “the rich and their ambitions” and resentful about “the marks of privilege” requested for the book of hours. He’s a bit fiery, our Will, and gets himself into several scrapes, all the while watched over by an animated gargoyle who represents, I’d say, Will’s conscience.

Meanwhile, Gemma, the would-be master limner, is frustrated about the inequalities she faces as a woman – particularly a woman having to cover for her husband who is, we soon discover, no longer able to draw and paint. Gemma, too, is aware of economic inequities. Southflete, the stationer and middleman who handles the commission, tells them that

the calendar pages must be beautiful scenes of life on the demesne, you understand … Chubby infants, well-fed peasants, colour, beauty …

Gemma is not impressed:

Beautiful. How, in a village farmer’s wife, would January be beautiful? Snow if the weather was kind, ice if it was not. And this past year, colder than ever. Frost that rarely lifted, and then only to snow or rain. London had clenched its teeth, frozen to the marrow, too cold to move. At least the cramped lanes and houses blocked some of the wind; what it was like in the country, she couldn’t bear to think.

She, like Will, makes her assumptions about their patron Mathilda’s life and values, but as is often the case, assumptions aren’t always completely right – and these too Cadwallader teases out as the book progresses.

There are other characters – including Gemma’s gentle husband, their quietly wise apprentice Benedict, and their son and beginning apprentice Nick. These, plus other residents of London’s book trade area, Paternoster Row, flesh out the story, adding depth to the narrative and to the history of this fledgling industry struggling to establish itself as a guild.

So, there’s beauty and chaos in life, but it is through their drawings that the limners convey their feelings and ideas. As the world changes around them – for reasons I can’t fully divulge – the limners draw and paint their reflections and reactions, their messages even, into the book. Both Gemma and Will remind Mathilda of who she is and of her responsibilities to herself and others, responsibilities that become more nuanced and more personal than their original simplistic view of the world at the start of the novel. The interplay between the artists’ ideas as they paint and Mathilda’s reflections as she considers their paintings is one of the joys of the book. It is as much through these, dare I say, “virtual communications” as anything, that our three main characters grow in understanding. It is through them, for example, that Gemma shares her feelings – feelings Mathilda doesn’t recognise as coming from any sermon she knows – about women’s need to stand strong in the face of men’s power.

Book of colours, in other words, is a delicious read, imbued with the life of a long-ago time but filled with people whose emotions, hopes and frustrations are very much our own. Latish in the novel, Mathilda realises that Will’s friend “Simon’s simple borders of right and wrong won’t hold. They leave no space to breathe.” This is the book’s message: to grow and change we need to expand beyond simple conceptions of right and wrong. We need to let each other breathe and be. Only then can true selves, true relationships and, hopefully, a true understanding of equity develop.

Note: Lisa (ANZLitLovers) loved this book, and Angharad Lodwick (one of last year’s Litbloggers) was also impressed. I also reported, back in April, on a Conversation with Robyn Cadwallader about this book.

AWW Badge 2018Robyn Cadwallader
Book of colours
Sydney: Fourth Estate, 2018
ISBN: 9781460752210

(Review copy courtesy HarperCollins)

Robyn Cadwallader in conversation with Catherine Milne

It’s some time since I last attended an author event, not because there haven’t been any but because they’ve clashed with other commitments. I mean, why do organisations choose the same day of the week for events, like, say, Thursdays? Why don’t they get together and agree to share them across all the week days? (Hmm, then they’d only clash with something else, so let’s just recognise that life is busy, that we have too many options, and move on …)

Robyn Cadwallader, The book of coloursAnyhoo … it so happened that our regular Thursday activity was off this week, as was our occasional one that bumps the regular one, so we were free to attend the In Conversation event with local author Robyn Cadwallader. You have met Cadwallader here before: I’ve reviewed her debut novel, The anchoress, and have reported on another event with her when she conversed with Irma Gold. Now, with her second novel, Book of colours, having been published, she’s doing the rounds again, as authors do.

Book of colours is also historical fiction set in mediaeval England, but in the 1320s, some 70 years after The anchoress. Introducing Cadwallader, HarperCollins publisher Catherine Milne commented that in contrast to The anchoress’ small, cramped setting, Book of colours encompasses the world, or, at least, London and Paternoster Row. Its subject is the creation of illuminated books, in particular those little books of hours owned by women; its characters include Mathilda who commissions such a book, and its creators, John Dancaster, his wife Gemma, and a man called Will. (I think that’s right; I haven’t read the book yet.)

The conversation focused on two broad (and obvious) issues – the research and the book itself. So let’s start with the research …

Exploring a gap, a fault-line

Milne began by asking Cadwallader to read from her book, something she did a few times throughout the hour. Milne and Cadwallader then discussed the period. It was a turbulent, often violent, time for London, for England in fact. There’d been famine, the inept King Edward II was on the throne, and tension was rising (though it would be another 60 years before the Peasants’ Revolt).

Howard Psalter and Hours (British Library, Arundel 83 I), 1310-20. Public Domain

Cadwallader explained that her inspiration for the novel was her interest in books of hours, and particularly in the strange marginalia that many have. This marginalia often depicts weird creatures, and scenes telling stories, some of them rather bawdy. Sometimes they support/illustrate the content, but sometimes they seem to do the opposite, representing, for example, the wages of sin. These stories told via the illuminations, she said, can operate at different levels. What was behind this practice? No-one knows apparently, so here was her gap, her fault-line to explore.

Cadwallader’s research included:

  • lots of reading, about London, about illumination and art, of court rolls and proceedings, about privies and prostitutes. You name it, she probably read it.
  • walking London with a 14th century map, trying to capture what the place was like.
  • talking to an art historian who told her about identifying the different artists working on a particular book of hours …
  • and spending time with that book of hours until the different artists became apparent to her.

Gradually, she said, she began to see the four different people working on this book and by the time she’d finished looking at it she had a sense of her characters.

Milne then told us that in Book of colours, Cadwallader had written a book-in-a-book. Called “The art of illumination”, it’s written, I think I’m right, by Gemma. Excerpts from this preface many chapters. Milne asked Cadwallader to read one of these, and I’ll share a bit here. It starts by stating that the words must be in an order, in lines, to facilitate reading,

But the requirements of decoration are not so simple. The page needs shape and order, but not so much order that life withers. Consider the beauty of the curve and curl. And, as with a breathing city, let all of life be there in the book, from high to low, animal to monster, story and joke, devotion and dance, for God the Artisan made it all. On some pages, simple vines and flowers may be enough. On others let decoration be lush and bountiful.

“Animal to monster” took us to gargoyles and another reading of a vivid scene in which Will, looking at gargoyles, senses one coming to life … he represents Will’s secret, his shame, said Cadwallader, who loves gargoyles. (Don’t we all?)

Challenging the centre …

Moving on to the core of the book, its meaning, Cadwallader said something interesting about marginalia. It’s on the edge she said, a bit like shadows. Because of this position, it challenges the centre, but in so doing it makes the centre more real. I liked this. She said that there’s something about pictures and stories. They refuse to be bound by convention. They – their meaning, their impact – change depending on the reader, or viewer.

Milne then asked about the main theme of the book. It’s a novel about power, she said, of which women have little. How do they wield what they have?

Cadwallader responded, as she also did about The anchoress if I remember correctly, that she’s interested in ordinary women. Gemma and Mathilda (despite the latter’s privilege) are ordinary women. How do they manage the second-class roles they are assigned by their society? Illuminators, for example, like Gemma, worked alongside their husbands but were never recognised by the guilds, while women like Mathilda have more privilege but are controlled by their husbands. In fact, she has less freedom than Gemma.

Cadwallader is interested in how these women dealt with what they were given, “in how they managed to find value in their lives within the constraints.” Laughingly, she said she’s impressed with the gains her characters managed to make!! She spoke briefly about ensuring these gains, their achievements, are real, that is, believable for the time. She feels, she said, knowledgeable enough about mediaeval times, in which she has a PhD, to be able to strike the right balance. During the Q&A, Cadwallader reiterated this point, and said that she was determined not to “damage the women of the era by presenting them differently from what they are”.

That the audience was enthused by the conversation was evident in the wide variety of questions which concluded the event. The topics included the ownership of books of hours, the education of women, the writing process, and the fact that, for all its historical research, the novel contains a “ripping yarn”! I’m always interested in the writing process, and enjoyed Cadwallader’s answer to a question about Will. She said she was able to “find” him by writing a scene with him, that she discovered more about him as the action developed. For Cadwallader, as for many authors I think, their characters are, in a sense, living, changing beings.

The final reading was another excerpt from “The art of illumination”, near the end of the novel. It concluded with:

All you can do is paint faithfully and well, let the book go.

And so Cadwallader has done. I look forward to reading it and sharing my thoughts with you in the near-ish future.

ANU/The Canberra Times Meet the Author
MC: Colin Steele
Australian National University
26 April 2018

Festival Muse: Question time – Robyn Cadwallader with Irma Gold

Robyn Cadwallader, Irma Gold

Cadwallader (L) and Gold in the Muse bookshop

Introducing the first event of their Sunday afternoon program, Dan, co-owner of Muse, commented on a peculiarity of Canberra: when they offer sessions on politics or history, they are packed out, but when the focus is fiction, the events are more intimate. Fine by me! I love small, cosy events. But it’s interesting, eh? Anyhow, we then got down to the event, which involved local author and editor, whom you’ve met several times here before, Irma Gold, interviewing local poet, essayist, novelist, Robyn Cadwallader, about her debut novel The anchoress (my review).

It was excellent. Gold structured her questions beautifully, starting with some background questions, moving through well-targeted questions about the book itself – well-targeted for me anyhow because she focused on historical fiction and feminism – and then ending with Cadwallader’s future plans. There was something for everyone – though I suspect most of us were interested in it all.

Gold commenced by providing a quick bio, which included the facts that Cadwallader migrated to Australia with her family when young, and that her background is academic writing. Gold shared Cadwallader’s shock that, when she moved from academic writing to fictional, her struggles with the dreaded term structure followed her! That made me laugh because I love thinking about structure in fiction. Gold also told us that The anchoress had been published in the USA and UK as well as Australia, and has been (or is being) translated into French. She said Marie Claire described The anchoress as “the book the whole literary world can’t stop talking about”. Wow, eh?

The interview commenced then with a brief discussion of Cadwallader’s early interest in books and writing, but let’s get to …

The anchoress

Robyn Cadwallader, The anchoressThe discussion started with Cadwallader doing a reading – and she chose the Prologue. That was great not only because it’s always (hmm, mostly) good to hear authors read from their own work, but also because it refreshed the book and some of its themes for me.

Gold said she’d never heard of anchoresses and asked Cadwallader what sparked Sarah’s particular story. Cadwallader responded that she’d come across anchoresses in her research for her PhD and, like Gold, was both horrified and fascinated by the concept. She said the inspiration for the story came from sitting in an anchorhold, unable to leave it, for an hour or so. It got her thinking about how it would feel to be in such a place forever. What would be the experience? She said her poetry is “about taking a moment and investigating it”. In this book, she took a small space and investigated it. Reinforcing her interest in focusing on the “experience”, she said she’d started writing the novel in 1st person but felt it wasn’t working, so tried 3rd but that didn’t work either. She then realised she had to be there to share the experience. She also made the point that she didn’t want Sarah to speak for all anchoresses.

Gold then honed in on the book’s genre, historical fiction, and asked Cadwallader how she went about separating her research from the writing. Cadwallader said she was lucky because she’d done so much research on the period before she started writing. She had to do a lot of thinking, however, and when she started writing she needed to do extra research on aspects she knew less well, such as village life and monasteries.

Next Gold moved onto how Cadwallader approached incorporating the history into the story. Cadwallader said she knew people would know little or nothing about anchoresses – how right she was! – but didn’t want to do exposition. She used the example of the section where Sarah stands in her cell (anchorhold) for first time. This was hard to write she said without “describing”. She tried to write it from Sarah’s experience in a way that would “show” modern readers, too, what it was like.

Some of the questions at the end concerned the historical fiction issue, so I’m sneaking them in here. Responding to what next, Cadwallader said that some people assumed she’d do a sequel! No, she said, as far as she’s concerned she’d wrapped up Sarah’s life and didn’t have anything more to say. Love it. This points, I think, to a difference between genre and literary-fiction. Genre tends to focus on plot, on the story of characters’ lives. Readers of genre love to get lost in – escape into – the characters’ lives and want to follow them, on and on. Readers of literary fiction – and they can be the same people, so I’m not suggesting a “snooty hierarchy” here – look for different things. They tend to be happy with ambiguous endings, and look forward to moving on to something different. I tend to be one of these readers. You could call me fickle.

Other questions picked up the relationship between fact/history and fiction, about the degree to which historical fiction should focus on the fact versus the fiction. Again, I loved Cadwallader’s considered response. She described historical fiction as an engagement between the present and the past. Writers, she said, need to balance what will communicate effectively with contemporary audiences and what’s accurate. She cited swearing as an example: a medieval oath, like “God’s teeth”, would not convey anger to a modern audience the way a modern swear word would.

Back to Gold now. Her next question concerned feminism. Yes! Was Cadwallader conscious of feminist issues from the start or did they emerge through the writing process. I loved Cadwallader’s answer. She said she was aware of feminist issues and theory from the start because her research had brought her face-to-face with medieval thinking about women, including the belief that women represent the body, and tempt men. However, she is concerned, she said, about historical fiction that wants to be positive about women. Such fiction needs to create strong, feisty women, but she wanted to explore what ordinary women experience.

So, her Sarah pretty soon finds her experience of her body starting “to bump against” the rule that tells her that her body is terrible. Cadwallader wanted to tell about ordinary women doing things that are not “spectacular”. She thinks some readers expected a “spectacular ending” but that would have plucked Sarah out of her context. Her approach to feminism was to describe these women’s experience, to honour them. She didn’t want to exploit them, but explore who Sarah was. She then talked about the village women. (They’re wonderful supporting characters in the book.) She didn’t want them to be “campaigners”, but wanted us to “see” them. It’s too easy for us to miss and not respect the ordinariness of women and what they do.

Muse bookshopGold ended with questions regarding how Cadwallader has handled her success and what her future writing plans were. Cadwallader talked about ongoing feelings of self-doubt and how easy it is to buy into criticism (rather, it seems, than praise). She described it – and being a writer, she used a metaphor – as being a headwind that you just have to keep walking into! And yes, she is writing another book. And yes, it’s mediaval-focused – to do with illuminators.

There was a brief Q&A, then it was over. We might have been an intimate group, but what a privilege to have been present at a conversation between an intelligent, warm interviewer and a thoughtful, open interviewee. Lucky us.

Delicious descriptions: Robyn Cadwallader’s voices

Robyn Cadwallader, The anchoressIn my recent review of Robyn Cadwallader’s The anchoress, I included very few quotes or excerpts to show her writing. Somehow my post ended up in other directions. But, she had some wonderful ways of describing the world she created, and I’d like to share one aspect to demonstrate this.

Locked away in her cell, Sarah had to rely on her senses, particularly hearing, to experience and understand her world. I greatly enjoyed Cadwallader’s descriptions of people’s voices.

Sarah’s first confessor-advisor, was old Father Peter:

His voice, though old and weary, was blue-green behind the black curtain, like the quiet water where the river deepens beyond the mill. Sometimes I didn’t hear the meaning of his words but let them float away, the murmur of flowing water calming me.

Gorgeous, isn’t it? (And this is how I often read “difficult” books – I let the words flow over me, rather than worry at them, and they often make sense, eventually.)

And here is young Father Ranaulf, fairly early in Sarah’s enclosure when she is starting to get into self-destructive behaviours, believing she’s following the advice of a past (now dead) anchoress:

Agnes? Guiding you? What do you mean? His voice had the edge of a plough blade, blunt but cutting.

Father Ranaulf for much of the novel comes across to Sarah as inflexible – because he is – but he starts to shift as people help him understand, empathise with, Sarah and her life. So, here he is later in the novel bringing her some, well, rather subversive papers:

Father Ranaulf’s voice sounds like stone that will not crumble. I have resented it, wanted to shout and scream at it, shake his dry words until they lose their order and their certainty. But that day, the day he brought the pages, his voice had tiny grains in it, specks of sand that shifted as he spoke, as if uncertain where to settle.

Of course, it’s not just the sound of the voices that are important to Sarah, but the words themselves. Well into the novel, Sarah hears the village men talking in the church about the Lord’s plans for using the common land that is critical to their livelihood:

Words were coloured grey and brown and black, with quick touches of red. Gradually, I recognised the men’s voices from what their wives had told me about them.

And one last one. It comes when Sarah is starting to realise what the Lord, Thomas, has been up to:

Thomas had returned to Friaston, but his words clung to the stones.

Given the importance of stones in the mediaeval world, the consistency of this imagery works really well to evoke Sarah’s world and her experience of it. It also contributes to our understanding of her character. Similarly, Cadwallader uses birds throughout the novel to convey some of her themes – freedom from body, freedom of the spirit, aspiration and risk. But that’s another story, which I’ll leave for you to discover.

Robyn Cadwallader, The anchoress (Review)

Robyn Cadwallader, The anchoressLet me start by saying that I’m not a big reader of historical fiction, and particularly not of non-Australian historical fiction, so to read a novel set in mediaeval times is quite a departure for me. However, I did want to read Robyn Cadwallader’s The anchoress for a number of reasons. Not only is Cadwallader an Australian writer living in the outskirts of my city, but we did meet a couple of years ago for a lovely lunch when she was in the throes of negotiating the publication of this book in three countries! And, besides this, the topic was so intriguing. I’m not a mediaevalist and had never heard of anchoresses and anchorholds before. It’s taken me sometime to get to it, but I finally have.

Now, one of the reasons I don’t jump to historical fiction is that I’ve tended to see it in terms of bodice-rippers and romances, and these don’t really interest me. But, The anchoress is not such a story. I don’t read back cover blurbs before I read books but towards the end of this book, as I was trying to guess where it might be going, I did look at the back, not because I wanted to know the end – because I didn’t – but because I was intrigued about how this book that was teasing me was marketed. The last sentence of the blurb is that the book is “both quietly heartbreaking and thrillingly unpredictable”. This reassured me that it wasn’t likely to go where a “genre” novel would probably go. Does that make sense?

Anchorites' cell, Skipton

Anchorite’s cell, Holy Trinity Church, Skipton, UK (Courtesy: Immanuel Giel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

So, the plot. It tells the story of Sarah, a young 17-year-old girl who, after some traumatic experiences including the death of a loved sister in childbirth, asks to be enclosed as an anchoress. This means she agrees to spend the rest of her life in a small stone cell, essentially “dead to the world”, tended to by a maid through a window in the wall and visited by a priest who will provide guidance and take her confession. Her support is paid for by a patron, the local Lord. She is given a Rule book as her guide, and is expected to provide advice to village women. Sarah’s story is told first person but, interspersed with hers – in shorter third person chapters – is the story of young, inexperienced Father Ranaulf, her priest-advisor-confessor. And so the stage is set for – well, we don’t quite know what.

As the story progresses, all sorts of narrative possibilities present themselves. Will she stay (like Sister Agnes) or leave (like Sister Isabella)? How will her relationship with Father Ranaulf develop? And why did Sarah really decide on this rather extreme course for her life (because, of course, there is a reason)? These all have the potential for melodrama or cliche, but Cadwallader keeps it grounded. There is drama – a fire – but even it is downplayed in the service of Cadwallader’s bigger themes rather than generating page-turning excitement.

However, it’s not plot that draws me in my reading, but character, themes and language. And here the main characters are well-drawn. The story takes place over the period of a year or so. At the beginning Sarah is an idealistic young anchoress, keen to do it right. She takes seriously her decision with the uncompromising enthusiasm typical of a young person, and so is determined to be disciplined. She allows herself no pleasure, not even some tasty food donated by the villagers, despite advice that this level of self-denial is not expected, and moves into self-flagellation. Over the course of the novel she comes to a more realistic understanding of what being “holy” might mean, and of what she needs to survive her chosen role. Father Ranaulf is also young and inexperienced, which results, initially, in stiff, black-and-white responses to Sarah. Over time, he too comes to a more humane understanding of her and of his role as her advisor. I’m almost tempted to call it a mediaeval coming-of-age story as these two young people come to a maturer world view. Anyhow, it’s nicely and realistically done.

There are other characters of course – Sarah’s maids, villagers who visit Sarah, various priests, and Sarah’s patron and local Lord, the somewhat cliched Sir Thomas. These are less rounded but they enrich the picture Cadwallader paints of mediaeval life, and contribute to the story-line.

“Body without a body”

“True anchoresses”, Sarah reads in her Rule, “are like birds, for they leave the earth – that is, the love of all that is worldly – and … fly upwards towards heaven”. Birds are a recurring motif in the novel, starting with a symbolic bird, the jongleur whom Sarah calls Swallow. “An acrobat”, she says in the opening paragraph of the novel, “is not a bird, but it is the closest a person can come to being free in the air. The nearest to an angel’s gift of flying”. For Sarah, being enclosed was her way of emulating Swallow, of leaping into the air, of being a “body without a body”. She yearns to be free of her body, to leave the senses behind, but the more she tries to escape them, the more they make themselves known. Her challenge is to reconcile this dichotomy, this need to deny the senses while still very much having them, this being, theoretically, dead to the world, while very much alive.

Tied up with Sarah’s challenge is the wider story of mediaeval life and values. Cadwallader conveys life at the times, mostly through the people who visit Sarah. Life, we discover, if we didn’t already know it, is hard for women. We meet women who are abused and assaulted, and we realise that their rights are few in a society which sees women as “lustful and tempting”. Father Ranaulf tell Sarah that:

It is man who is mind and soul, woman who is body.

Wise Father Peter allows women some advance on this when he tells Father Ranaulf that holy women can develop manly souls and “almost become a man”! But it is Sarah who really confronts Renaulf, and forces him to a more empathetic understanding of her (and, by extension, of other women).

Life is also hard for the poor, as Cadwallader tells through the villagers’ lack of power in the face of the Lord’s control over the land they work. And life is a challenge too for church-men, who have to manage villagers and lords while earning money to survive. Father Ranaulf wants to make beautiful books but must “produce an income”, not to mention advise an intelligent young woman who won’t accept his platitudes and thoughtless “rules”!

So, The anchoress is an engaging story. It’s about a time long distant, thus satisfying our historical curiosity, and it’s about power in gender and class, that still resonates today. But, above all, it is about human beings, about how we read or misread each other, about how (or if) we rise to the hard challenges, and about whether or not we accept a duty of care to those who come into our lives. An enjoyable read.

awwchallenge2016Robyn Cadwallader
The anchoress
Sydney: Fourth Estate, 2015
ISBN: 9780732299217