The Daylight Gate, Jeanette Winterson

As all but the most hardy amongst will already have noticed, there’s been a distinct chill in the air for the last week or so, and the nights are drawing in. Autumn is upon us, that most magical of seasons, when dark, chilly evenings are filled with the potential for strange goings-on.

Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate

There’s certainly no better time to enjoy a spooky story, as I recently discovered when I treated myself to a copy of Jeanette Winterson’s latest book, The Daylight Gate. This novella is a collaboration between the writer, well-known for her works including Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and recent autobiography Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, and Hammer Films, who have commissioned a series of horror stories from ‘literary’ writers not usually known for the genre. In the case of The Daylight Gate, the result is certainly creepy, as well as spine-tinglingly magical.

Winterson’s tale is based on the true story of the Pendle Witches, a notorious trial which took place in Lancashire during the reign of James I, a period when the hunting down of so called ‘witches’ was widespread. Today the case is notorious for the cruelty and paranoia which led to the eventual execution of these poor wretches.

Devilish Deeds in Lancashire

The Daylight Gate, however, weaves an powerful, fleshy fiction around the bare bones of the historical case. Typical of Winterson there is magic here, with uncanny apparitions and terrifying premonitions keeping up the pace of the narrative. There’s plenty of erotic encounters too, perhaps appropriate for Hammer, whose 1960s masterpieces tended to include plenty of spicy innuendo or subtle (and not so subtle) sexuality. Most importantly, The Daylight Gate achieves what few novels do in being truly chilling, although the treatment of the ‘witches’ by the authorities is often much more shocking and horrific than any of the story’s  supernatural elements. Winterson effectively recreates the oppressive atmosphere of a time when life was hard and magic was terrifyingly real.

It’s not a long book, but its 193 pages are filled with tension and surprise. I read it in one sitting, by candlelight, alone in the house with just a bottle of red wine for company. As magical experiences go, it’s one that will be hard to beat.

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