‘The Daylight Gate’ by Jeanette Winterson or don’t look North

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Macabre and chilling take on Witches and their historic persecution.

‘The Daylight Gate’ by Jeanette Winterson was a chance find, in my local bookshop, when scouring for any potential spooky reads as Halloween approached. I have to say that I have probably exhausted the larger part of this canon, so I was intrigued when I spotted this one alongside Neil Spring’s excellent ‘The Watchers’. Two new reads in one foray! One with a spooky alien interplay, and the other veering towards Covens and Sabbats. Happy days.

So far, so different. Yet in some weird twist of fate, both books also share an uncanny ability to weave extant events of their times together, with unexpected links and connections drawn- making their stories their own re-workings (despite their vastly differing subject matter). Indeed, Winterson, has succeeded in bringing a little, gruesome piece of Hammer to the page that wears its power lightly. It is a short read, but this does not compromise on the horror. You get the feeling that she has expertly made every word count, in the delivery of this tragic tale. Short sentences abound, adding to the unease! Word choices are precise, cutting the atmosphere with a knife. A feeling of darkness descends as you immerse yourself into Jacobean Lancashire, and the Puritan terrors it enfolds.

Yet this sense of horror does not rely on our stereotypical expectations, in terms of characterisation. Witches naturally provide fertile ground for the exploitation of our primal fears. The atmosphere that is conjured, in the opening pages, lends itself closely to the dark and menacing premise that the three witches of Macbeth themselves embody. A dank, brooding air descends upon our senses reflecting the hopelessness that this novella expresses in its continuation. This subdued and oppressive atmosphere lends a melancholy sentiment to the enfolding misfortune that the unfortunates of this story endure. The real horror, unfortunately, lies in our realisation that certain strata of society, such as Catholics or independent women were annihilated in order to appease those with any grievance- real or imagined that may be afforded a sense of power from their accusations. Some of the actions exhibited by the power hungry males we encounter, make for uncomfortable reading and express a barbarity that we are less likely to understand in our modern lives, but that do still threaten us.

Ultimately, this tale succeeds in helping us pull our freedoms a little closer to us, appreciating them a little more than we did before, while being mindful that horrors could descend on any of us at anytime- reminding us that the darker aspect of humanity has never been entirely been eliminated. As they say, it’s not the dead you should fear….

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