Corrag by Susan Fletcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The burning of women labeled as witches is a part of human history that is a horrendous travesty of justice. But prior to reading Corrag (also released with the title The Highland Witch) I never considered why women were labeled as witches. I had a picture in my head of a number of misunderstood loners who paid the price for the prejudices of the day. Corrag is a loner, of course, but her biggest crime is healing. During that period, prayer was the only acceptable method of curing disease or treating wounds. Since doctor and witch were synonyms, Corrag found herself in situations where she would help heal someone's loved one, only to be chased through the woods by witch hunters. She had to go to the Scottish highlands to find people willing to accept her and to embrace her gifts.
What I liked most about Susan Fletcher's novel is the history behind it. I loved what she had to say about prejudice, especially religious prejudice, and I enjoyed learning about the Massacre of Glencoe. I followed up my reading with a quick check of Wikipedia to learn more about the event and was please to see that Fletcher had remained true to the history.
Susan Fletcher's prose seems to evoke polarized opinions among other reviewers. Some people feel she's written the most beautiful book they've ever read, while others feel it's too long and the attention to detail slows the pace too much. I am somewhere in the middle. There is no doubt that Fletcher understands how to write to the senses and pay attention to detail. For example:
And it snows. From the little window, I can see it snows. It's been months, I think, of snowing – of bluish ice, and cold. Months of clouded breath. I blow and see my breath roll out and I think – look. That is my life. I am still living.
This is beautiful writing. But, as her critics have said, detail can also slow down the pace of the story. It's a balancing act. Sometimes she can be somewhat redundant. Months of clouded breath and I blow and see my breath roll out say the same thing in different ways. Although both phrases evoke wonderful images and lead the readers in different directions, they could be combined to make a tighter phrase. This is further complicated by the character, Charles Leslie, who has come to Corrag's cell to learn more about the massacre and in the process is enthralled by Corrag's words. So, as part of the plot, Fletcher has to write words that Leslie can love. I believe she succeeded. Here's another quote often pulled from the novel:
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.
Those are words anyone can love.
Steve Lindahl – author of White Horse Regressions and Motherless Soul
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