Susan Fletcher – Corrag
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.
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.
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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