EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Robyn Cadwallader on her brilliant debut novel The Anchoress

Robyn Cadwallader’s debut novel The Anchoress has been met with widespread acclaim, with critics comparing it to Hannah Kent’s 2013 debut Burial Rites. She chats to Booktopia’s Editorial Director Caroline Baum.

Grab a copy of The Anchoress here

The Anchoress

(Review by Caroline Baum)

Like Hannah Kent’s award-winning international bestseller Burial Rites, this is one of those out of the box debuts that always sends the publishing world into a frenzy: a startlingly original piece of storytelling from a unknown who demonstrates an ability to create a total, immersive, believable world that is rewarding as much for what it allows the reader to learn as for sheer escapist enjoyment.

Like Hannah Kent, Cadwallader has chosen to write about a singular isolated figure in an unfamiliar past. Unlike Kent, her outsider is not accused of any crime.

the-anchoress

I’m going to stick my neck out and predict this book will be one of the year’s highlights and success stories. It has bold reach and ambition, tangling with questions of morality and scripture, but despite its rarefied theme, this is an essentially human story, rich in period detail and atmospherics.

Sarah is a religious recluse – a young woman in 13th century Britain who chooses the life of an anchoress – which means being literally walled up in a cell, with limited contact to the outside world through her maid and her confessor. Following the death of her sister, Sarah forsakes the world to retreat. It soon becomes apparent that she is also, perhaps seeking sanctuary from danger: the threat posed by the sexually predatory local lord, who has made unwelcome advances. All too soon it becomes obvious that Sarah is battling inner demons – she is aware of the response of the flesh, and seeks to mortify herself to subdue her own desires.

While she faces the unexpected challenges of her cell, and of her limited interaction with the outside world, her vivid imagination tangles with her faith and conjures up the spirit of the previous anchoress- Isabella- a mysterious ghostly presence. As Sarah discovers more about Isabella she learns to face up to her own weakness, pride and examine her capacity for compassion.

Meanwhile Ranaulf, her confessor, is finding his responsibilities more demanding than he could ever have anticipated. He is not used to women who counter his interpretations of the gospels.

The scene is set for conflict as Lord Thomas imposes his will and attempts to intrude on the sanctity of Sarah’s enclosure. The plot is interwoven like a fine tapestry with references to the oppression of the peasantry by their feudal masters and the complex inter relationship between the Church and the landed gentry. Class, illiteracy, superstition, shame, all make pertinent appearances as Sarah is faced with dilemmas that test her faith to the limits of her conviction. An erotic undercurrent gives Sarah’s worship of Christ a powerfully passionate charge while every teaching of the church reinforces the notion of woman as the vessel of sin. Is Sarah safe from temptation? Is she pure in thought and deed? Would she be able to endure the suffering of Saint Margaret, the martyr whose life she studies, who died a graphically horrible death for her beliefs?

A film adaptation can surely not be far behind. Benedict Cumberbatch as Father Ranaulf perhaps? Upcoming Australian star Sarah Snook (to be seen this year alongside Kate Winslet in the eagerly awaited adaption of one of my most favourite Australian novels, The Dressmaker in October) would do the role of Sarah justice. If period fiction with big themes is your thing, this novel could be the answer to your prayers.

Grab a copy of The Anchoress here

Details of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel ‘Purity’ revealed

Jonathan Franzen fans will get to sink their teeth into another serving from the acclaimed author later this year, with his fifth novel, Purity, to be released in September.

purityFew details about the novel have emerged until now, although Franzen has previously hinted at its length (496 pages) in interviews, saying:

“I’ve let go of any illusion that I’m a writer of 150-page novels. I need room to let things turn around over time and see them from the whole lives of other characters, not just the single character. For better or worse, one point of view never seems to do it for me”.

Here’s the blurb:

Young Pip Tyler doesn’t know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she’s saddled with $130,000 in student debt, that she’s squatting with anarchists in Oakland, and that her relationship with her mother – her only family – is hazardous. But she doesn’t have a clue who her father is, why her mother has always concealed her own real name, or how she can ever have a normal life.Enter the Germans. A glancing encounter with a German peace activist leads Pip to an internship in South America with The Sunlight Project, an organisation that traffics in all the secrets of the world – including, Pip hopes, the secret of her origins. TSP is the brainchild of Andreas Wolf, a charismatic provocateur who rose to fame in the chaos following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now on the lam in Bolivia, Andreas is drawn to Pip for reasons she doesn’t understand, and the intensity of her response to him upends her conventional ideas of right and wrong.

Purity is a dark-hued comedy of youthful idealism, extreme fidelity, and murder. The author of Freedom and The Corrections has created yet another cast of vividly original characters, Californians and East Germans, good parents and bad parents, journalists and leakers, and he follows their intertwining paths through landscapes as contemporary as the omnipresent Internet and as ancient as the war between the sexes. Jonathan Franzen is a major author of our time, and Purity is his edgiest and most searching book yet.

Franzen has always been an intriguing figure, oscillating between academic everyman and literary snob at different times since the release of his acclaimed third novel The Corrections in 2001. Does he still have what it takes to write another Great American Novel?

Will Purity live up to the hype? We loved Freedom, so fingers crossed!

Love Franzen? Pre-order your copy of Purity here

What books are on Man Booker Prize Winning Author Richard Flanagan’s bookshelf?

Earlier this week The New Yorker produced a short film about Man Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan, focusing on his ‘writing shack’ on Bruny Island.

FlanoIt’s a beautiful piece, full of vintage musings on life, happiness and the writer’s life.

We also get a glimpse into the award-winning author’s writing room: a modest, empty desk with a laptop, a lamp and a couple of notepads. And a galah that sits next to him. Seriously, he is amazing, both Richard and the galah.

The real treat is a couple of lingering shots of Flanagan’s bookshelves, an intentionally small collection. ” I don’t keep many books here,” he says. “I keep the books I’m reading at the moment, but I do read a lot when I’m writing.’

Being the crafty book nerds that we are, we thought we’d compile a list of the books in Richard Flanagan’s bookcase, a look into the reading habits of one of Australia’s finest writers. Enjoy.

A Death in the Family: My Struggle
by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Light in August
by William Faulkner

Umbrella
by Will Self

Dear Life
by Alice Munro

Love in the Time of Cholera
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Crossing to Safety
by Wallace Stegner

The Childhood of Jesus
by J. M. Coetzee

To Name Those Lost
by Rohan Wilson

The Blood of Heaven
by Kent Wascom

A Possible Life
by Sebastian Faulks

Alone in Berlin
by Hans Fallada

The Story of a New Name
by Elena Ferrante

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend
by Elena Ferrante

Troubling Love
by Elena Ferrante

Half of a Yellow Sun
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Paradise Reclaimed
by Halldor Laxness

This War Never Ends: The Pain of Separation and Return
by Michael McKernan

Moscow, 1937
by Karl Schlogel

The First Man
by Albert Camus

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter
by Cesar Aira

Living to Tell the Tale
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The River Swimmer
by Jim Harrison

Long, Last, Happy: New and Collected Stories
by Barry Hannah

Sanctuary
by William Faulkner

The Virgin and The Gipsy & Other Stories
by D. H. Lawrence

Sons and Lovers
by D. H. Lawrence

A Burnt-out Case
by Graham Greene

A Life Like Other People’s
by Alan Bennett

Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying – the Secret WWII Transcripts of German POWs
by Sonke Neitzel

Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East
by Reza Aslan

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Belomor
by Nicolas Rothwell

Sandakan: The Untold Story of the Sandakan Death Marches
by Paul Ham

Fallen Land
by Patrick Flanery

Submergence
by J. M. Ledgard

The Accidental
by Ali Smith

A Meal in Winter
by Hubert Mingarelli

the-narrow-road-to-the-deep-northThe Narrow Road to the Deep North

Winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize

by Richard Flanagan

A novel of the cruelty of war, and tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love.

August, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma death railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier.

Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever.

This savagely beautiful novel is a story about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.

Grab a copy of Richard Flanagan’s award-winning
The Narrow Road to the Deep North here

Richard Flanagan wins the 2014 Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North!

Richard Flanagan has won the 2014 Man Booker Prize for 2014 for his incredible novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

A sweeping love story set against war, in a review last year we said ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North isn’t just one of the books of the year, it is one of the finest books of the last decade.’ Read the full review here

It was controversially overlooked for the Miles Franklin Award this year, Andrew Cattanach writes about the decision here.

It was described by Man Booker Prize judges as ‘a literary masterpiece’.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

by Richard Flanagan

the-narrow-road-to-the-deep-northAugust, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma death railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever.

This savagely beautiful novel is a story about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.

Richard Flanagan was born in Longford, Tasmania, in 1961. His novels, Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould’s Book of Fish, The Unknown Terrorist, and Wanting have received numerous honours and are published in twenty-six countries. He directed a feature film version of The Sound of One Hand Clapping. A collection of his essays is published as And What Do You Do, Mr Gable?.

Judge for yourself – order a copy from Booktopia, Australia’s Local Bookstore


Continue reading

Will Richard Flanagan win the Man Booker?

I can be a little bitter sometimes…

Around this time last year I finished Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and immediately shouted to the world “THIS WILL WIN THE MILES FRANKLIN!”

the-narrow-road-to-the-deep-northI told everyone who would listen, swelling with literary priggishness, waving them away when they offered up other worthy winners.

“No” I would say.

“You’ve got it all wrong.”

“I mean have you even read it?”

“And if you have, I mean, did you really read it, or just, you know, read it?”

Imagine my horror when, in June this year, The Narrow Road to the Deep North lost out to Evie Wyld’s bold sophomore novel All the Birds, Singing.

You live and die by your literary recommendations, and while Wyld’s talent and bravery is well worth rewarding, I couldn’t help thinking the judges had made a huge mistake, turning away the opportunity to recognise a truly great Australian novel with Australia’s greatest literary honour.

Fast forward four months and I’m sitting here typing with a smug look on my face.

all-the-birds-singingWell, more smug than usual.

Soon the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction will be announced, and who do we find sitting equal favourite with the bookies?

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.

Perhaps it is poor form that, on the birthday of Miles Franklin, I find myself willing Flanagan to the prize because of my own hubris, but getting a book recommendation wrong stings. Just ask Oprah.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is an extraordinary novel from one of Australia’s finest writers at the top of their game. It crosses generations and continents. It’s about love and lust, bravery and cowardice, friendship and betrayal. In a strong field, it’s a very worthy winner.

So at around 7:30am tomorrow morning when, touch wood, Richard Flanagan becomes the fourth Australian to win the Man Booker Prize think of me in my living room, punching the air like I’ve won it myself.

You see, as much as I want another Australian win, I really just want him to get up for one reason.

I was right all along.

You see…

…I can be a little bitter sometimes…


Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

Man Booker News: Australia’s Richard Flanagan named on six book Shortlist for 2014 prize

Could he do it?

That’s the question on everyone’s lips as Richard Flanagan continues his surge towards a Man Booker Prize for his beautiful novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Flanagan’s masterpiece was controversially overlooked for this year’s Miles Franklin.

2010 winner Howard Jacobson is joined by fellow UK writers Ali Smith and Neel Mukherjee, with the new international floodgates appear only slightly ajar, with two US authors Karen Joy Fowler and Joshua Ferris making up the six shortlistees.

Take a closer look at the 2014 Shortlist, and be your own judge…

Continue reading

Great Opening Lines in Literature

“They say you can tell a lot about a book by its first line.”
- Andrew Cattanach, This Blog Post


“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.”
– Albert Camus, The Stranger


“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”
– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”
– Jane Austen, Emma


“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.”
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice


“Dr Iannis had enjoyed a satisfactory day in which none of his patients had died or got any worse.”
– Louis de Bernieres, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin


“It was a pleasure to burn.”
– Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451


“Who’s there?”
– William Shakespeare, Hamlet


“I have just returned from a visit to my landlord–the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society.”
– Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights


“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?'”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


“The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended. Here on the Equator, in the continent which would one day be known as Africa, the battle for existence had reached a new climax of ferocity, and the victor was not yet in sight.”
– Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey


“Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.”
– Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Inferno


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


“James Bond, with two double bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death.”
– Ian Fleming, Goldfinger


“When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.”
– Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd


“It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.”
– Joseph Heller, Catch-22


“A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.”
– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World


“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
– Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis


“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.”
– George Orwell, 1984


“On they went, singing ‘Eternal Memory’, and whenever they stopped, the sound of their feet, the horses and the gusts of wind seemed to carry on their singing.”
– Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago


“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
– Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar


“I began this disorderly and almost endless collection of scattered thoughts and observations in order to gratify a good mother who knows how to think.”
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile


“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”
– William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


“The year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten.”
– Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea


“The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us.”
– H.G. Wells, The Time Machine


Know a great opening line we’ve missed? Share it in the comments below!

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