None of the main characters of this book are particularly likeable. Not to me, at least. I liked Father Peter, Anna, and Ellie. That’s about it. Oh, and the village women. But Sarah and Father Ranaulf, no.
The blurb asks:
What could drive a girl on the cusp of womanhood to lock herself away from the world forever?
The answer, in Sarah’s case, is cowardice. Life in the Middle Ages was dangerous. Death was always close by, waiting for the slightest pretext to collect a soul. For women, the act of bringing forth new life, her only purpose according to medieval thought, was the most among the most lethal. For both her and the baby. After watching what happens to her mother and her sister, Sarah is afraid to live among men. To risk marriage and children and death in childbed. Her decision had nothing to do with Sir Thomas. That happened after she’d spoken to Father Simon and the bishop.
Speaking of Sir Thomas. He was a calculating, petty, vindictive man, wasn’t he? A spoiled man who despised being told “no”, and would go to any lengths to get revenge on those who did. You have to feel sorry for Lady Cecilia. And poor Anna. You know the fact that she resembled Emma was not a coincidence. Definitely calculating.
Father Ranaulf was rather standoffish and wholly unconnected with real life, his mind and heart submerged within the copied words of Augustine of Hippo, Tertulian, John Chrysostom, and other religious thinkers. His outlook was very literal and by the book. He thaws out, some, over the course of the book, but never really comes alive.
One thing that niggled at me throughout the book was the name of our anchoress: Sarah. The use of an Old Testament for a Christian in 13th century Europe is highly unusual. The Inquisition, as such, didn’t really exist, as yet, but any hint of Jewishness would, still, have been dangerous. Heretics and apostates were still burned. In my mind, it just didn’t fit.
The Anchoress is an interesting read with much food for thought, but the main characters are rather difficult to relate to. Maybe it’s a difference in philosophy. The whole “pay for his sin” stuff. Another novel about a more sympathetic anchoress is Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen by Mary Sharratt.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars