Taking a Sabbatical from Life: The Anchoress by Paul Blaney

The Anchoress FINAL

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Review by Julia Newhouse.

Have you ever just wanted to shut the world out? Destroy your phone? Stop going into work? Take up residence in a walk-in closet? Wait. Take up residence in a closet? Maggie, Paul Blaney’s protagonist in The Anchoress decides on a whim to do all of the above. Maggie hasn’t been happy, and one morning she sleeps in, and realises suddenly that she isn’t going to go into work. Without really thinking about it, she grabs some provisions and heads into an empty walk-in closet to have some time to herself. While we may not all choose a wardrobe as our idea of an oasis from the modern world, this book is a nod to the growing pressures of our fast paced lives, and the way in which pain and torment from the past may just come back to find you, no matter how hard you try to bury them.

I was intrigued by the synopsis of The Anchoress, and keen to see both why Maggie decided to take to her closet, and whether or not she would come (or be forced) back out into the real world. There were elements of the story that ask you to take little leaps of faith for example, when Maggie’s teenage neighbour starts to talk to her through the wall, and a random pizza delivery man arrives at her (wardrobe) door, which led me to lose faith in the idea of this as a real story of a person who just snapped. After all, how did they know she was there? I had to actively push those logical arguments aside and my efforts were rewarded by the book’s end. It is through these conversation partners we learn about Maggie’s life, and what led her to her current state. Given that Maggie is living in a small dark space, it is these characters, along with a handful of others who drive the story forward.

There is something very appealing about a book that so deftly seeks to explore one person’s mind. It is also a light fantasy of sorts, after all, who hasn’t wondered what would happen if they just decided to disengage from the world? Blaney writes well, and the small, dark space that Maggie is living in comes to feel familiar, as does the way in which she loses track of time. She wonders now and then what time of day it is, or how long she has been in the dark, although when you have nowhere to go, and nothing to do, these concepts lose a lot of their import. If you have had a bad week, this might be the book for you. If you often feel like taking time out of the busy world, this could very well be the book for you. And, if you positively love the idea of setting up camp in your wardrobe, this is definitely the book for you,  because reading about someone else doing it is infinitely more practical.

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