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“Witchery Popery,” Murder and Mayhem in Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate

Fictionalized version of the Trial Of Lancashire Witches, 1612.

Myra here.

This book that I am sharing is part of our #HorrorPostalBookClub (#ScreamsByMail) and seemed to fit our current reading theme with all its murder and mayhem, Satanism rites and rituals, and “witchery popery.”

The Daylight Gate

Written by: Jeanette Winterson
Published by: Hammer (2012)
ISBN: 0099561859 (ISBN13: 9780099561859) Literary Award: Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian General Fiction (2014). Copy read is from the international #HorrorPostalBookClub.

This book has traveled a fair bit before getting to me here in Singapore. Originally selected by a book club member from Vancouver (see first image below), it has gone to several people from Ontario (Canada), Spain, Germany, then to me in Singapore. I sent it off to Seattle (US), then will be sent off to another book club member in the US, before going back to its home in Vancouver – all with our handwritten notes enclosed in the slim flowery notebook.

Before I share my thoughts about the book, here are some reviews by other book club members which I snagged through their Litsy accounts:

Unlike the first four ladies who read the novel (more like a novella, really – it was quite short), I gave this one a pan (or a so-so). I generally found the premise interesting. The story is a fictionalized account of the Trial of the Lancashire Witches in the UK in 1612, said to be the “most famous of the English witch trials” according to Winterson’s introduction.

I suppose I was initially turned off by the novel with the gratuitous violence I found a few pages into my reading. I haven’t even had time to really breathe into the story yet, get my bearings given the language and tone in keeping with the historical context, and my wits get assaulted by needless sexual brutality. While I gravitate towards darkness, hence my penchant for crime, thriller, horror stories – I found the intention to shock the reader manipulative, perhaps necessary in the author’s mind – but I suppose I was not in the proper headspace for it, hence my general distaste.

I also found the multiple characters in the beginning confusing, but I appreciated the short bursts of chapters, which kept me flipping the pages, allowing me to finish the entire novel in two days. I also enjoyed the supremely-strong female voice that was authoritative, unapologetic, and punitive all at once. I think it was really this that saved the story for me, more than anything else. As I have written in our book club’s journal:

I would predict that this book will have a cult following with all the rape, torture, incest, gore, swimming in Satanism’s cesspool. Add the elixir of youth, and am sure it will have the level of notoriety expected of cult followings. I love me my measure of darkness, but not one that seems without redemption. Although, one can argue that the ending is with a measure of such redemption with Alice ultimately choosing the manner of her death.

The really fun thing about this book club is that I get to read other people’s thoughts and ideas on this novel from different parts of the globe – which I truly found exhilarating. On to the next horror title, which I hope I can read and review for our current reading theme.

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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