The Daylight Gate
By Jeanette Winterson
(Grove Press, Hardcover, 9780802121639, 240pp.)
Publication Date: October 2013
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Set in seventeenth-century England during the reign of James Ithe monarch who wrote his own book on witchcraftThe Daylight Gate is best-selling writer Jeanette Winterson’s re-creation of a dark history full of complicated morality, sex, and tragic plays for power.
This is a world where to be Catholic is a treasonable offense. A world where England's king vows to rid his country of witchery popery popery witchery” and condemns the High Mass and Black Mass as heresies punishable by torture, hanging, and burning.
Winterson's literary suspense tale takes us deep into a brutal period of English history, centered on the notorious 1612 Pendle witch trialsan infection of paranoia that crossed the ocean with the Pilgrims and set the scene for the Salem witch hunt.
Good Friday, 1612. Pendle Forest. A gathering of thirteen is interrupted by local magistrate Roger Nowell. Is this a coven or a helpless group of women trying to save their family from the stake? Already two stand accused of witchcraft. The wealthy, respected Alice Nutter tries to defend them, haunted by her own past entanglement with magick. She doesn’t believe in the Devil, but as she fights for justice, her life is endangered by forces visible and invisible.
Born in Manchester, England, and adopted into a family of Pentecostal evangelists, Jeanette Winterson is the author of seventeen books, including Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Sexing the Cherry, and The Passion. She has won many prizes including the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel, the John Llewllyn Rhys Prize, the E. M. Forster Award, and the Stonewall Award.
Alan Cheuse reviews Jeanette Winterson's latest book, The Daylight Gate, set in 17th Century England. The novel is set seven years after the undoing of the infamous Gunpowder Plot, in which Catholic terrorists attempted to blow up the House of Parliament of the anti-Papist King James I. More at NPR.org
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"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