If I hadn’t read this book, I would never have imagined that there was still persecution of witches in late 17th century Great Britain, the practice of which was only banned from 1735 with the introduction of the Witchcraft Act.
The story is a gripping one that recounts the political massacre of Glencoe in February 1692, told through an imprisoned woman who was condemned as a witch and was waiting to be burned, and who had earlier managed to save many lives in Glencoe. Her only audience was a reverend of Christian faith, whose motive was initially to obtain an eyewitness account for political purposes. During the course of listening to the “witch”, he was transformed from a disgusted bigot to a compassionate sympathizer.
The structure of the novel is such that the first-person narrator flips between the “witch” telling her story and the reverend writing to his wife. The themes that dapple the novel are love of nature, getting in touch with one’s heart, futility of hatred and violence, tolerance of others’ values and compassion for all living creatures.
The writing is deeply affecting, especially the description of Scottish scenery. In the end, I think it is the underlying themes that resonate viscerally with me.
These are passages that I love:-
But maybe the best thing I learnt was this: that we cannot know a person’s soul and nature until we’ve sat beside them, and talked.
When was I not a bit lonesome inside? I mostly was. Seeing true, natural beauty can lessen it, because sunsets and winter light can make you say inside you ‘I am not alone’ – you feel it, through such beauty. But it can worsen it, also. When you want a person with you it can be a sore thing. Sometimes you see this beauty and think it is not as lovely as them.
Your heart’s voice is your true voice. It is easy to ignore it, for sometimes it says what we’d rather it did not – and it is so hard to risk the things we have. But what life are we living, if we don’t live by our hearts? Not a true one. And the person living it is not the true you.
It is the small moments, sir, which change a world.
No war. Fight with your pen. Give your battle-cry in ink, and mark your dreams down on a page.
I’m giving this novel 4.5 stars.