HAPPY HALLOWEEN MY WITCHES AND BITCHES, MY GHOULS AND GIRLS!!!! Welcome to today’s Tomboy book club on this SPOOKY OOKY KOOKY SLAM DUKEY HALLOWEEN!!!
The book I’ve chosen today seems appropriate in its evil doings and filthy ways: its full of witches digging up graves and fucking Satan, but we’ll get to more of that later. I’d never heard of Jeanette Winterson’s ‘The Daylight Gate‘ before I was crouching down hurting my knees at the bottom shelf of a charity shop bookcase with grandma looming over me (rifling through the DVD’s trying to find more films with her fave actor she loves to gush over- sorry for spoiling the secret, Chrissy), when I saw the name of beloved Jeanette and instantly reached for the spine.
The book is based off the true history (don’t worry, it still has the magical flare and fictional spell that Jeanette has made perfection) of the Lancashire Pendle Witch Trials in 1612- the home county of Winterson, too. Using details from the first ever witch trial in England to be documented, a narrative grown around the bones cast aside by history- like a reincarnation of spells- to flesh out a deliciously sordid and luscious tale of love, hatred, superstition and injustice.
Alice Nutter is the main character in the novel (it is really easy and addictive to get through though, I managed to get through it in 2 days and it would be great for a long journey!), a suspiciously aloof woman who has the audacity to live and control her own wealth without the direction of a husband’s hand. This book is full of contradictions and paradoxes, and whilst sometimes it can be a bit confusing trying to balance all the time, I think the way Winterson has created her characters to be so multiple and contradictory just adds further to mystery of the plot and hexes murmured. Alice is at once old and young, a mature woman with the face of a younger self; she is rich and supposedly got there by learning to be a merchant cloth dye trader- but how, and who taught her? Then there’s Old Demdike, the pustule ridden hag locked away in Lancaster Castle facing death, seemingly devoid of all tenderness and romance, but who actually has a past much more wild than I thought could pan out.
The male characters in this book on the whole are dicks- they are the powers that be spreading the atmosphere of fear and hatred which sent so many to death for simply choosing to live a little wilder. This book is set during the reign of King James, who is famous for writing ‘Daemonologie‘- an extensive study of witchcraft, and the ‘Dark Prince’ for whom they sell their souls. And also famous for being the target of the failed gunpowder plot, when Guy Fawkes and his lot wanted to blow up Parliament- it’s a pity they failed. But the book makes very stark the simultaneous persecution of Catholics and alleged Witches espoused under King James, making one wonder if its really witches who were the targets, or if witchcraft was merely a scapegoat for Catholics to be pinned with (“Witchery Popery, Popery Witchery“) as a justification to make those in power feel less guilty?
Using the rich men in charge to harass and essentially bully old homeless women and their families puts starkly in the foreground how class and gender were a big role in why people were really executed. It sort of makes the book more scary, as it’s not the witches who are the monsters- desperately trying any vile thing they can concoct to try to save their grandmother. The true Satan-spawn are the emotionless, and money-minded authorities- not giving a toss who they kill or why, so long as it advances their careers. They do say the real monsters aren’t the ones hiding under your bed…
Though I will give a warning to the faint hearted, this is a gristly book. Within the first ten pages a woman is raped (the book also features paedophilia and incest- but that is way to horrifying to go into here), and Winterson does not stop these relentless punches against ones morality. There are beatings, grave-diggings, torturings and orgies. Some of my highlights include when a head is severed from its rotting corpse, has a tongue ripped out of a boys mouth stitched inside its toothless jaw, is boiled in a pot and left on the side to speak. Or there’s the time teeth fall from the sky into Alice’s lap, or the time there’s a party for Satan and he literally starts shagging someone in the middle of the room with everyone watching- or the time a door knocker turns into human flesh… this book is weird, but a good weird I think. Not that I endorse any of the above acts, but the gore and fantastical gruesomeness is one of the reasons I love Winterson, she writes the most far-fetched things, but always manages to make it seem plausible in a way we dream of.
Winterson also always manages to put my favourite part of any story in amongst this bleakness: love. That may be the most devilishly strange thing after all, that love could survive in such a place. But it does, and whilst weird, the love stories conjured in this book are wild and soaring.
I won’t write anymore, most of you either want to go trick’o’treating or partying with one of those awful plastic clown masks- I hate those. But I hope you give this frightful tale a go, and it says that it was in production to be made a film so maybe there is a film too?!? Anyways, I hope you have a lovely Halloween and don’t piss off any ghosts or anything XOXOXO
“…’Do I believe in witches? He did not like that question. The question that followed he liked less: If Alice is a witch, how can I love her? He would love her if she were a wolf that tore out his heart. And he wondered what that said about love…”