Friday, 5 April 2013

"The Daylight Gate," by Jeanette Winterson

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

In my last post I admitted to not having read very much Oscar Wilde and to neglecting the classics in general. In this post, I have to admit that I have read very little of Jeanette Winterson's writing. I think that I read "Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit" a long time ago, but nothing else since. And, to be honest, I am not sure that I would have found my way to reading this novel, had I not been loaned it by a friend and Hammer horror fan (this is published by Hammer).

In common with the last book that I read and reviewed on this blog, "Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol," Jeanette Winterson's novel takes its starting point from historical events.  In "The Daylight Gate," she takes real-life figures from historical records of the 1612 Trial of the Lancashire Witches - both the accused and the accusers - and weaves them into a fictional narrative. This was something that I know little about, but since reading this novel I have been finding out more about the history from this fascinating website.

Although I enjoyed the story and the historical background was interesting, I don't think that this has inspired me to seek out other novels by Jeanette Winterson. I do concede, though, that as I have not read much by her before I don't know how typical this novel is of her normal writing style.  I found that her prose was very bare - quite short sentences, to the point, with not much extraneous detail - and I think that it was probably too bare for my taste.  It's odd that the same friend who I borrowed this book from had also loaned me "The Woman in Black."  When I wrote about Susan Hill's ghost story here, I wrote that I found her descriptive writing hard to grip on to.  Curiously I found it hard to get a grip on Winterson's writing in this novel due to the paucity of description.  Just call me awkward; I'm sure my husband probably does.

I also felt that, although there are grim and gruesome parts of this book, it wasn't especially scary - and I did have the expectation that it would be because this was published by Hammer.  In this respect I felt that "The Woman in Black" was more effective, although I should admit that my limited horror reading does incline more towards the ghostly than the witchy (despite having called our cat Pyewacket, which is the name of a witch's familiar in a play I love called "Bell, Book and Candle").  One reason why I favoured "The Woman in Black" was that Susan Hill took us more into Arthur Kipps's fear, reactions and emotions - and fear can be incredibly catching - while Jeanette Winterson's sparse style seems to take the dictum of "show, don't tell" to extremis.  I didn't feel that I got much of a sense of the inner life of her characters - although the lesbian love story part of the novel was poignant and effective - and I wanted more insight into them.  

If you are interested in reading or watching something about witchcraft and history, I would be more inclined to recommend "Vinegar Tom" by Caryl Churchill.  This is a theatre work which I have never seen staged, but I remember reading and enjoying the script when I was at university.

Although this did not necessarily work for me, I am still intrigued to read more that has been published by Hammer and I do like a good ghost story.  In particular I am keen to get my hands on "The Greatcoat," by Helen Dunmore....

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