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Susan Fletcher – Corrag

November 12, 2010

LibraryThing Early Reviewers135. Corrag by Susan Fletcher (2010)

Length: 367 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 28 October 2010
Finished: 31 October 2010

Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers.
Why do I have it? I heard the words “Scottish Highlands” and “witch trials” and I was sold.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 17 September 2010.

Corrag’s enchanting,
but not a witch, no matter
what anyone says.

Summary: In the cold winter of 1692, a young woman named Corrag is put in prison on charges of witchcraft. She is one of the sole survivors of the massacre at Glencoe, in which soldiers of the Protestant King William killed many of the men, women, and children of the MacDonald clan in the Scottish Highlands. Corrag is visited in prison by Charles Leslie, an Irish priest and Jacobite who is determined to hear the truth of the massacre. But before she will tell him of the murders, she first tells him the story of her life, marked as it is by loneliness, wonder, and the haunting trouble that comes with the word “witch”.

Review: I’ve got this book listed as “historical fiction”, but filing it under “poetry” wouldn’t be too far wrong. It’s got some of the most magical, lyrical prose I’ve read in a long time, with a strong voice ringing crystal clear throughout. And the thing is: it’s not Fletcher’s voice. It’s Corrag’s. Corrag speaks in a rhythm like no one else, a rhythm like poetry, and while it took me a while to get used to it, once I did, it completely carried me away in the story. Mr. Leslie remarks in one of his letters to his wife (which, by the way, are written in a voice no less authentic yet completely different) that he might have called her way of speaking witchcraft, so well did it enchant the listener, and I certainly agree. Corrag’s voice is uniquely magical, and what’s more, her way of speaking lets us know the character in a way that’s above and beyond what her words are saying. That’s a fine accomplishment for an author.

I had never liked ‘witch’, and still don’t. But if ever I deserved the name at all, it was then, I reckon. It was having my hair fly in the wind as I stood on the tops, and how I crawled through the woods where the mushrooms grew. It was cloud-watching and stag-seeing, and spending long hours – full afternoons – by the waterfall that I’d bathed in, watching the autumn leaves fall down and make their way seaward. They bobbed and swirled. I said ‘magick’, one day. In the gully that led to my valley, I stopped. The wind was in the birches, and it felt they were speaking. If they were speaking, it was ‘magick’ they said. Magick. Here.

I enjoyed the prose so much that I didn’t even mind that it didn’t have so much of a story to tell. Corrag’s life story is pretty simple when it’s boiled down to its bare elements, and on its own, it doesn’t seem like it should be enough to fill 350 pages, even when interspersed with Mr. Leslie’s letters. But Corrag weaves it though with enough evocative detail and philiosophical musings that it wasn’t until I’d finished the book that I stopped and said “wait, that’s all that happened?” Perhaps I can’t help subconsciously comparing it to the touchstone of Scottish Highland novels, the Outlander series, in which every possible thing that could potentially happen to a person has happened at least once, thus leaving Corrag feeling a little spare in contrast? But regardless, while I was absorbed in the book, I was thoroughly lost to the outside world, and I will certainly be looking for more from Susan Fletcher. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: While Corrag similar in setting and politics to the Outlander books, it’s wildly different in tone… but I think that most people who like the one will appreciate the other. Also good for folks who like books about witch trials, Scottish history, or historical fiction from a unique perspective.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: The Book Whisperer, Eve’s Alexandria, Farm Lane Books Blog
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Edinburgh, 18 February 1692. Jane, I can’t think of a winter that has been this cruel, or has asked so much of me.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 195: “There were bannocks and barley-cakes and cheese and atholl brose.” – a Scottish drink obtained by mixing oatmeal brose, honey, whisky, and sometimes cream.
    .
  • p. 202: “He rubbed the heel of his cuaran into the ground.” – usually translated as “sandal” or “shoe”.
    .

**All quotes come from an advance copy and may not reflect the final published text.**

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2010 2:47 am

    I think you are right about filing this book under poetry – it was beautiful.

    Unfortunately the quality of the writing wasn’t enough to keep me interested all the way through – I got bored by the lack of action.

    It is interesting that you should compare this book to Outlander – I didn’t like that book either!

    • November 12, 2010 10:12 am

      Jackie – Maybe the Scottish Highlands aren’t for you? :)

      I feel like a bit of a hypocrite, since my last book review was a case where I also loved the style but where the plot wasn’t enough to keep me hooked in. I can’t put my finger on anything qualitatively different between that book and this one… just a purely subjective response.

  2. November 12, 2010 6:43 am

    Lucky! I so wanted to read this from LT. I generally think of myself as a character-driven reader who is satisfied if the plot is thin providing the characters are full. The prose of this sounds amazing so I’m determined to get my hands on a copy.

    • November 12, 2010 10:15 am

      christina – It sounds like you should love this one, then; I’ll be interested to hear what you think once you get the chance to read it!

  3. November 12, 2010 11:52 am

    I really wanted to get this one from LT too, now that I’ve seen your review I can remember to go and put it on my wishlist.

    • November 16, 2010 10:00 am

      Jen – It definitely seems like something that I think you’ll enjoy… I hope you get the chance to check it out!

  4. November 12, 2010 3:46 pm

    This is the second review for Corrag I’ve seen today–and you both praised her style. Interesting! I wonder if the rest of her novels are similarly thin on plot (to make room for the characters)?

    • November 16, 2010 10:01 am

      Omni – The style was really distinctive, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that I’m not the only one who had something to say about it. I haven’t read any of Fletcher’s other work, but it’s gone on my wishlist!

  5. November 13, 2010 1:13 pm

    I’m so jealous – I wanted this from Library Thing! Hopefully my library has it, because after reading your review, I’m more determined than ever to read it. :)

    • November 16, 2010 10:01 am

      Carrie K. – I hope your library has it, and I hope you enjoy it!

Trackbacks

  1. BOOKS AND MOVIES » Bookish links for Saturday, November 13, 2010
  2. Corrag by Susan Fletcher | Page247

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