From Robyn Cadwallader, author of the internationally acclaimed novel The Anchoress, comes a deeply profound and moving novel of the importance of creativity and the power of connection, told through the story of the commissioning of a gorgeously decorated medieval manuscript, a Book of Hours.
London, 1321: In a small stationer’s shop in Paternoster Row, three people are drawn together around the creation of a magnificent book, an illuminated manuscript of prayers, a Book of Hours. Even though the commission seems to answer the aspirations of each one of them, their own desires and ambitions threaten its completion. As each struggles to see the book come into being, it will change everything they have understood about their place in the world. In many ways, this is a story about power – it is also a novel about the place of women in the roiling and turbulent world of the early fourteenth century; what power they have, how they wield it, and just how temporary and conditional it is.
Rich, deep, sensuous and full of life, Book of Colours is also, most movingly, a profoundly beautiful story about creativity and connection, and our instinctive need to understand our world and communicate with others through the pages of a book.
Praise for The Anchoress:
‘So beautiful, so rich, so strange, unexpected and thoughtful – also suspenseful. I loved this book.’ Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
‘Affecting … finely drawn … a considerable achievement.’ Sarah Dunant, New York Times
‘Elegant and eloquent’ Irish Mail
‘Cadwallader’s writing evokes a heightened attention to the senses: you might never read a novel so sensuous yet unconcerned with romantic love. For this alone it is worth seeking out. But also because The Anchoress achieves what every historical novel attempts: reimagining the past while opening a new window – like a squint, perhaps – to our present lives.’ Sydney Morning Herald
‘A novel of page-turning grace’ Newtown Review of Books
“Let all of life be there in the book”
BOOK OF COLOURS by Australian author Robyn Cadwallader is set in medieval London and covers the fascinating history of some of the first book makers. Back then they were called “illuminators” or “limners” and books were beautifully illustrated prayer books. Not much is known about the limners of this time, but Cadwallader has combined a great deal of historical research and imagination to tell the story of the creation one of these intricate prayer books through the eyes of the limners who created it and the noble lady who commissioned it.
Cadwallader drew inspiration from medieval prayer books such as the one pictured below. The “Neville of Hornby Hours” was created in London around 1325-1375 and can be viewed at the British Library website.
Interspersed throughout the novel are fascinating details about how the limners of medieval times created their masterpieces. This is told through Gemma’s story. She is the wife of John Dancaster, master illuminator, but she is just as talented as he is. She is unable to claim her work as her own due to the sexist attitudes of the times, but her skill and love of illuminating becomes evident through the book she decides to write, “The Art of Illumination” and as the story unfolds.
BOOK OF COLOURS took me a long time to read (more than a week!) but it was definitely worth the long reading time. The amount of historical information and the way all of the story lines tied in together deserved to be lingered over. At first I was a bit disappointed by the ending but after reflecting on it for a little while I think it was fitting. Medieval times were grim, even for noble families, so it feels right that there wasn’t a big happy ending for this story. 5 stars!
Thank you HarperCollins Publishers for providing me with a review copy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robyn Cadwallader lives among vineyards in the countryside outside Canberra. She has written poetry, short stories and a non-fiction book. Her first novel, The Anchoress, was published in Australia, the UK, the United States and France.