Sympathetic, fully realized characters and good use of period details make this a winning work of historical fiction.

THE ANCHORESS

Quiet, assured debut novel set in medieval England, concerning a young woman’s entry into the religious life—one as tumultuous as anything on the outside.

Early on in Australian writer Cadwallader’s narrative, we learn that young Sarah, still a teenager, has lost her sister in childbirth: “Emma didn’t speak, just looked at me, her eyes fading. Blood dripped, then ran.” The elegant understatement of that terrible moment speaks to Cadwallader’s approach throughout: the England of the mid-13th century is a place of rupture, oppression, intolerance, and violence outside, but within the tight-holding walls of the Midlands church and the “rough lodging” it offers, little of that outside world can enter. Even so, in time, Sarah, though seeking escape, engages with that world—and she must, for it presses in on all sides. And besides, she’s not quite cut out for the isolation. 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: “The stones were faces that came out when my candle was alight, some laughing, some staring, some as sad as me.” She is also very good at describing the power relations that inhere in religious hierarchy (“Sister, I’m your confessor and guide. You are to obey me in all things, as your Rule says”) without resorting to too-easy anachronisms, though Sarah does have her protofeminist moments. In a time when self-assertion was tantamount to sin, Cadwallader’s language and tone seem just right. Readers may wish there were a little more action to move the story along, but this is an appropriately contemplative piece that is kin less to Ellis Peters’ Cadfael mysteries than to Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations as imaginings of medieval faith and the faithful.

Sympathetic, fully realized characters and good use of period details make this a winning work of historical fiction.

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-10425-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

Did you like this book?

ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

Did you like this book?

more