AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
With Halloween just around the corner, we have a review now of a ghoulish new novel from writer Jeanette Winterson. It's a dark thriller with a cast of characters that includes witches, an unforgettable spider and the devil himself.
Alan Cheuse has our review.
ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The absolute forefront of British writing, that's where Jeanette Winterson, now in her mid-50's, has stood for me ever since I read her early fiction. She's a writer in the vanguard still, and moving against the traditional decorous nature of the British novel. Her latest work of fiction, a daring book called "The Daylight Gate," takes us back to the bloody raucous early English 17th century, where some 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 1.
"The Daylight Gate" of the title is, like the novel itself, a membrane of time. On the other side of this gate, supposedly hell and the dark gentleman, otherwise known as the devil await. But in fact the ordinary English side of this gate is a hellish enough realm for Catholics. In the wake of the Gunpowder Plot many of them, accused of dabbling in magic and outre sexual liaisons, have already suffered hunger, prison, and physical torture in advance of being tried as witches and hanged.
Winterson's bold sentences and pithy but authentic scenes quickly build sympathy in the reader for the naysayers, the mad violated children, the same-sex lovers, and even one of the gunpowder plotters who has been emasculated by the king's torturers. This last fellow has taken refuge on the estate of a wealthy high-born Catholic woman named Alice Nutter, a master of falconry who doesn't appear to age. Weird, but she has some potion that keeps her looking young.
Roger Nowell, the local magistrate, likes that. He finds himself caught between his desire for the beautiful Alice and his devotion to his legal and political duties. Will Nowell's desire for Alice keep him from rounding her up with the other suspected witches? Will she give up the fugitive gunpowder plotter hiding in her house? Such are the matters at hand in this passion-charged work of fiction that - I really have to say it - flirts with greatness, a book that gives you the sensation that the novelist is trying to pull you over to the other side, or at least to help you peer across into the darkness
CORNISH: The book is "Daylight Gate" by Jeanette Winterson. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University.
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