Book Review: Witch Light, Susan Fletcher
Once in a while, you come across a book that transports you into an entirely different universe. The words challenge you to let go of the reality and become one with the protagonist, feeling their sorrow, their joy, their loss, and their love.
Witch Light, is one such gem. Hauntingly beautiful and painfully raw, the words paint the scenes before your mind’s eye like an artist producing a masterpiece.
Based in the 17th century Scotland, this book is the story of an extraordinarily brave girl, Corrag. It shows you the world of the 17th century British and Scottish societies from two stark perspectives as the book keeps going back and forth between the haunting and somehow magical account of the witch, Corrag and the mundane letters of an Irish Jacobite, Charles Leslie.
The stunning imagery of the book makes you stand as Corrag beside Alasdair, the man she loved and watch the sunset with him. It makes you suffer his loss as she does. It makes you want to see the mountains of the Scottish highlands yourself and feel the fresh air as you inhale. It makes you want to search for her small hut where she kept her hens and goats and herbs and where she tended to Alasdair. It makes you look for her stag and her birch tree and her Ridge like a Church.
Corrag narrates the tales of her love, loss, and joy to Mr. Leslie while she is imprisoned by the authorities, waiting for her execution. She says she needs him to listen to her, to see the beauties she saw in little things around her. She wants him to tell the world, indeed after her death, that she was never a witch. She was just a free soul with a big heart and an eye for the little things. She wants him to tell the world about the brutality of the Redcoats, their betrayal as they ruthlessly slaughtered old and young, women and infants alike in the dead of night during the Massacre of Glencoe. Her raw pain is palpable. Her honest account a whiplash to the greed of the powerful.
She starts with stories from her childhood. Here is where the reader can first appreciate the finery of her observation. She flees from her childhood home into the unknown forest on the warnings of her mother, Cora. As she makes her way through the forest, her connection to all things natural unfolds, guiding her towards her destiny. Her only real danger being humans, she travels on with her grey mare. Not a single leaf goes unnoticed by her observant eye. She rants on about the magic of nature to Mr. Leslie in a poignantly nostalgic way, regretting her impending death every moment.
Charles Leslie, on the other hand, is a typical religious and entitled individual. He goes into the cellar to talk to Corrag only to collect evidence on the massacre of Glencoe and the McDonalds clan,to be used as a tool in James’s restoration as the ruler. Reluctant at first, he agrees to listen to the life story of Corrag with the impatience of a man on a mission. His initial letters to his wife are laced with hatred and disgust for the supposed witch imprisoned in the disgustingly dirty cell. His he refuses to see the charm of the world through Corrag’s eyes, citing the heart-rending sceneries as her ‘bewitchment’. Yet somehow, somewhere along the way we see him change into a more compassionate and open-minded person. We see him be affected by the story of the massacre, not only for political reasons but also, for the cruelty of the Redcoats. As the story’s climax approaches, his transformation nears completion. The seal is closed with his ultimate attempt to rescue Corrag and deliver her to where she truly belongs.
The charm of the book cannot be described in simple words. The strange poetry hidden in the way the words are stringed together, makes you wonder if the author is really a witch herself and has enchanted the book with some magic of her own.
Most books only reach skin deep but very few leave a permanent mark on your heart. This is one such book. Even years later, you’ll be able to feel the emotions of Corrag rush over you like a flooded river.
A must read in all senses, Witch Light is a beautiful way to travel back in time and experience a new life.