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The Daylight Gate Hardcover – October 1, 2013
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*Starred Review* Winterson’s novels tend to be complex and invigorating. She excels at creating provocative and satirical meshes of tradition and innovation, as in her many-faceted riff on Robinson Crusoe in The Stone Gods (2008). But here wizardly Winterson hones her storytelling to a dagger’s point in an eviscerating variation on the epochal 1612 English witch trials in haunted Lancaster, a Catholic stronghold under James I, the new Protestant king. Like a witch over a cauldron, Winterson mixes historical figures (including William Shakespeare) with invented characters as she portrays a coven of horribly abused women and their starving, sexually exploited children, a desperate clan bravely defended by the mysterious and refined Alice Nutter. Wealthy, accomplished, and strangely ageless, Alice lives in solitary splendor, trusting only her falcon, and refuses to be intimated by the puffed-up witch-hunting lawyer, Thomas Potts, or the handsome, wily magistrate, Roger Nowell. But why does Alice risk all for the hideous crone, Old Demdike? Winterson summons up with forensic detail seventeenth-century filth, defilement, and torture while also conjuring occult forces and diabolical events. The result is a gripping tale of bloody religious persecution and brutal oppression of women and children, a heady and seething novel of fact, valor, “magick,” and love. --Donna Seaman
Mixing historical detail and dark horror, the author brilliantly brews a spellbinding take on the 1612 English witch trials.”People
A daring historical novel a portal in prose, through which readers enter fully into the bloody, raucous England of the early 17th century .Any reader who crosses over into this novel will remember vividly where he or she has traveled through the tumultuous years when English heroines and witches appeared interchangeable, and passion erupted at the gateway between love and despair.”Alan Cheuse, NPR
"Winterson’s writing has an uncanny glow: Her pared-down, poetic prose serves as an artful yet unobtrusive foil to the quick, visceral cadence of a plot that walks a fine line between gothic horror and historical fiction, tempering the shock value of its sex and violence. From one gruesome development to the next, Winterson’s haunting imagery and narrative immediacy captivate...an engrossing story that’s sure to leave you shivering."Catherine Straut, Elle
"Electrifying.... a nightmarish novella that burns like a hot coal."Kirkus Reviews(starred)
"Absorbing...[there is] pleasure in its intensely visual qualities."Publishers Weekly(starred)
"More than a re-imagining of a vanished moment. It is concerned with freedom, choice, and destiny, truth to emotion and to personal experience, the nature of conviction and belief, evil and, above all, good. . . . Winterson's intensely graphic descriptions of the witches' practices and their suffering create a fictional world of claustrophobic nightmarishness. . . . The Daylight Gate is angry, red in tooth and claw, bloody, suppurating, replete with an agony that is startlingly physical. . . . The novel is a tour de force of horror writing, but it never descends into shilling-shocker territory. It's an almost impossible balance for the writer to strike, but Winterson succeeds triumphantly. . . . Slips effortlessly between apparent realism and full-throttle fantasy, grotesquerie or burlesque. It makes for exhilarating if unsettling reading.”The Saturday Times
Sophisticated . . . Visceral . . . Utterly compulsive, thick with atmosphere and dread, but sharp intelligence too.”The Telegraph
"Gripping . . . The narrative voice is irrefutable; this is old-fashioned storytelling, with a sermonic tone that commands and terrifies. . . . [Winterson] knows where true horror lies. Not in fantastical dimensions, but in the terrestrial world. Most grotesque and curdling are the visceral depictions of seventeenth century Britainthe squalor, inequality, and religious eugenics. . . . As well as being a gripping Gothic read, the book provides historical social commentary on the phenomenon of witchcraft and witchcraft persecution."The Guardian
Vigorous . . . Filled with Winterson’s characteristic intelligence and energy . . . This dark story with its fantastical trappings of magic and mysticism, its strong women and wild, Lancastrian setting is Winterson’s natural habitat and she maps it with relish.”New Statesman
"Part history, part legend, part fairy tale, Winterson’s writing is vivacious and energetic. . . . Winterson has crafted a protagonist who is heroic and admirable but uncertain of her own destiny, a character who explores the emotional alchemy of female relationships. The Daylight Gate is a fast-paced, vivid novella that is every bit as dark, dangerous and sexually charged as one might expect from a storyteller of Winterson’s calibre."Scotland on Sunday
"A story about the sacrifices people make for those they love . . . [Winterson]describes the area and the claustrophobic atmosphere beautifully. But her great skill as an author is most evident in the way she navigates past the cliches of the occult genre, while creating a novel of genuine horror. The Daylight Gate is an enthralling story unfussily told. I read it all in one sitting, only wishing there were more."London Evening Standard
"Dazzling . . . Winterson is a deft storyteller and a writer of wonderful economy. . . . Amid the blood, mud, and violence, [it is also] intensely poetic. . . . One of the very few contemporary novels that I actually wished were longer."Literary Review
"Winterson lavishly embroiders a tale rich in Gothic supernatural touches, but mainly accentuates the very real torment and degradation endured by [the] accused. . . . In a feverish climate, where fear of women and their sexuality often translated into rape and persecution, Winterson creates a deliciously dreadful tale that cleverly blurs the line between real and imagined horror."Metro (4 stars)
"The beauty of the writing, exemplary in its pared-down simplicity . . . [is] so seductive that by the middle I was hooked."The Independent
Top customer reviews
An author who chooses to include witchcraft, alchemy, and demonic bargains in her story as things with actual power can't just dribble them through the plot as dramatic episodes. There should be deeper and more potent consequences. Winterson depicts at least a couple of her stereotypical ragged band of desperate, impoverished 'witches' as people who can actually wield magic. Ugly magic. Complicated magic. But apparently they only do so when it serves the plot -- not prior to the action of the story to actually improve matters for themselves or hurt their enemies. A spirit or two makes an appearance, but fades away and is ignored thereafter.
Alice Nutter, the central character, is a woman of independent means, intelligent enough to study alchemy and build a prosperous business. She loves deeply, and has had both a woman and a man as lovers -- one of the best aspects of the story. She knows that both witchcraft and alchemy can be potent tools. And yet, though her own life and the lives of the two people she loves are threatened, she acts as if she has only her wits to save her. Which is ironic, because she should be smart enough to see that the obsession and desperation of those around her cannot be reasoned with. There is also a point when she commits an act of clever, ruthless self-defense, but never displays that aspect of her character again.
Finally, there is a prophecy which the author takes care to build up and then undercuts.
The writing style is strong and vivid. The characters are interesting. The relationships are believable. The peril is real. I worried about the characters, got angry at them, loved some of them.
This should have been a much deeper, more complex, and more magical story. The characters have so much potential, but they have been left to skitter around on the surface of a hodgepodge world.
Most recent customer reviews
This is a fictional and poetic account of the famous 1612 Pendle Witch Trials in Lancaster, England. It's a quick read.Read more
This was the perfect book to blast through in a day whilst laid up with a broken toe.Read more
suspend disbelief.Read more