The Daylight Gate, an instant bestseller in the UK, is award-winning Jeanette Winterson’s singular vision of a dark period of complicated morality, sex, and tragic plays for power in a time when politics and religion were closely intertwined.
After the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, every Catholic conspirator in England fled to a wild, untamed place far from the reach of London law. On Good Friday, 1612, deep in the woods of Pendle Hill, amid baptismal pools and low, thick fog, a gathering of thirteen is interrupted by the local magistrate. Two of their coven have already been imprisoned for witchcraft and are awaiting trial, but those who remain are vouched for by the wealthy and respected Alice Nutter.
Shrouded in mystery and gifted with eternally youthful beauty, Alice is established in Lancashire society and insulated by her fortune. Yet she is also plagued by rumors of a dark and torrid love affair with another woman, the matriarch of the notorious Demdike clan. As those accused of witchcraft retreat into darkness, Alice stands alone as a realm-crosser, a conjurer of powers that will either destroy her or set her free.
To open The Daylight Gate is to be thrust into an England most Americans will have trouble believing ever existed. It's a wild, superstitious place where the king (James I, Protestant son of the very Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots) has minions who prosecute (and, arguably, persecute) people suspected of witchcraft or Catholicism. Winterson starts with the historical record the 1612 Lancashire Witch Trial really happened and adds poetry, possibility, Shakespeare, Elizabethan Magus John Dee, a sexy priest on the run, a lifelong love between two women, and best of all, her version of real-life accused witch Alice Nutter. Using the fact that Nutter was from a different class than the group she was tried and executed with, Winterson creates a character straight out of fantasy. Alice is vividly beautiful, suspiciously young-looking, and while not a witch herself, acquainted with what witches call the "Left-Hand Path," having worked with Dee on his alchemy and seen her female lover sell her soul to the devil, here called "the Dark Gentleman." Disliked for her power and fearlessness she rides astride and harbors suspected witches on her land when the hunts for Catholics and witches converge, so too do her past and present. The book is short, violent (both torture and magic are depicted with full goriness), and absorbing. The language is simple and sometimes lovely, and to say that the book could have gone the extra mile and been a graphic novel is not to damn it, but to recognize the pleasure in its intensely visual qualities.
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Thoughtful & well-researched fiction
I heard the positive critic review on NPR, quickly searched iBooks Store and found it. The download took a few seconds and I found myself reading the book within minutes of NPR’s review…awesome. I have never read any books by Jeanette Winterson but I love any/all historical fiction. As I type this review, I have read 75% of the novel and I have found her style of writing to be very engaging (not boring). I really enjoy the author’s use of real historical characters intertwined with her own fictitious players in a hypothetical tale that deals with an extremely volatile subject.