The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson
GOOD FRIDAY, 1612. Pendle Hill, Lancashire.
A mysterious gathering of thirteen people is interrupted by local magistrate, Roger Nowell.
Is this a witches’ Sabbat?
Two notorious Lancashire witches are already in Lancaster Castle waiting trial. Why is the beautiful and wealthy Alice Nutter defending them? And why is she among the group of thirteen on Pendle Hill?
Elsewhere, a starved, abused child lurks. And a Jesuit priest and former Gunpowder plotter, recently returned from France, is widely rumoured to be heading for Lancashire. But who will offer him sanctuary? And how quickly can he be caught?
This is the reign of James I, a Protestant King with an obsession: to rid his realm of twin evils, witchcraft and Catholicism, at any price …Can a man be maimed by witchcraft?
I almost feel a little ashamed to say that this is the first Jeanette Winterson book I’ve ever read, even though I do own a copy of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, but I think that’s because this is the first one that’s really appealed to my tastes. Having said that, I also feel as though I haven’t quite started with the best of her work…
From the very first few pages of The Daylight Gate, I was absolutely hooked and managed to read it in a couple of days which seems almost unheard of for me at the moment. I knew pretty much nothing about the Pendle witch trials and it has only increased my desire to discover more. The pace of the novel and the sentence structure itself is short and snappy; perfect for a quick winter read. However, like I said I do feel like this novel probably doesn’t showcase Winterson at her best. As much as I was gripped by the story and was compelled to keep reading, I do think a little more description wouldn’t have gone a miss. I never truly got a sense of Pendle Hill, and felt that the prose could have been much more evocative of the time in which it was set. The story is very horrific at times and truly grisly, but I can’t say I felt particularly haunted or scared, and this was ultimately what I thought I was going to get. But I think what ultimately chills you to the bone, is the fact that these women really were put to death for being considered witches.
It has to be said, there were also some rather silly incidents in the plot; I’m not sure Shakespeare was really necessary as a character, and I found it a little unbelievable. But in a way, I do admire Winterson for having some fun here with this new novel, and I certainly had fun reading it, which at the end of the day is what everyone wants out of a good book.
Like I said, it’s not the best book I’ve ever read, and I’m sure it’s not the best book Jeanette Winterson has ever written, but it is good fun and a great read for those cold winter nights ahead. I only wish it could have been longer, and last maybe another night or two! I know Winterson is a well-respected and well-love writer; plenty of my colleagues are full of adoration for her, but I’m not convinced yet that her other work is for me. The Daylight Gate appealed to me because of its dark and supernatural nature, and I know her other works will be incredibly different. But if you have read something else of hers that you think I shouldn’t dismiss, please do post a comment below!
The Daylight Gate is out now, published by Hammer. Thank you to the lovely Melanie for lending me her copy!