Monday, October 21, 2013

The Daylight Gate

I was looking for new authors to read and saw this book recommended by the staff at my local library. The paranoia pandemic of the witch trials has always interested me and so I decided to give this novella on the Lancashire Witch Trials a try. However, I am a little divided in how I feel about this book. What I was expecting was a historical fiction novella, but what the novella is, is a fictional story based during a time of history. It is not historical fiction in that sense and the author, Jeanette Winterson, addresses that in her introduction. After reading the introduction I was rather conflicted with going on with the rest of the novella, but decided to keep an open mind and forge ahead.

What I enjoyed the most about what Winterson was able to accomplish in her writing, was the style of writing. She was very good at images, which made it seem rather poetic or lyrical in nature. The setting was almost a character all on its own and you could feel the fog on your skin or the scent of the woods the characters were travelling through. In a way, she has a small amount of Gothic imagery going on as well, with taking some horrific images and almost giving them a sense of overlying beauty.

However, I felt that throughout all of the poetical images there just wasn't enough character or backstory development. Winterson brought up some topics like "alchemy" and "elixirs of youth", but they were not explained why they were important to the storyline. I made some basic assumptions as to the roles they played, but I wanted just a little more, especially if the reader is not familiar with these things. They may become lost or confused by their importance and miss the meaning behind them. As for the characters, I got a better sense of the type of person they were than what they looked like and I had to use my imagination to fill in the blanks for many of them. With all the effort that was put into other elements of the story, I was a little surprised that the characters were not fleshed out as much.

After reading some of the other reviews posted on this novella, I could see how the simplistic writing could be an issue. I understand what Winterson was trying to accomplish with it, but am not certain that it worked here. What I needed from this novella to make it dynamic was a little more "meat" with respect to the writing. I needed the sophisticated and educated vocabulary, the more complex sentence structures,  and beautifully detailed passages for me to be committed to the story she was trying to tell.

The other issues I had with the novella has to do with the content. There were several very sexually explicit passages that I felt were not needed or necessary. By including them it began to read a little like a romance novel with this theme just under the surface throughout it, and for me that is a big offense, especially when it comes to the horror/suspense genre. Finally, the novella did not offer a new view on witchcraft by stating that witches make there pact with the Devil or "Dark Gentleman" in this case. I was hoping for something a little more interesting than that. With the added element of "alchemy" I was anticipating that as part a new twist, but nothing was ever really developed with respect to that.

Overall, it was a somewhat interesting novella that was a fast and easy read. If you are expecting a historical fiction piece that stays very true to the Lancashire Witch Trials storyline, then this novella is NOT for you. But if you enjoy light pieces of fiction based loosely on a time in history then this novella may be perfect for you.

Rating: 2.5 out 5

I got this book from my local library; I was not paid to do a review of this book.

(image taken from

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