The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Daylight Gate exists at a crossroads, between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, and prose and poetry. Jeanette Winterson uses History to spin a mediation on persecution, feminism, polyamory, power, religion and abuse.
The history she uses this time is that of the Pendle witch trials in the 1600s Britain. A group of women and men were hanged for witchcraft, and using everything from flights of fantasy to ribald humor to Grand Guignol horror, Winterson tells their tales. The main protagonist is Alice Nutter, a wealthy and independent woman who gained her wealth by creating a a unique magenta dye. She is at the center of several circles. She owns the land where the accused witches live. She also is the lover of a banished Catholic who (allegedly) tried to assassinate King James. In the past, she worked with Queen Elizabeth’s court mathematician/magician John Dee, and through him, met her other lover, the beautiful Elizabeth Device—who is the matriarch of the accused Pendle witches. Nutter is the central piece of the kaleidoscopic text, which includes the priggish chief lawyer Thomas Potts, a cameo by Shakespeare and the points of view of the other accused people.
The real star, though, is Winterson’s marvelous prose. Each sentence sparkles with invention. Her imagery is magical, brutal, funny and terrifying—often at the same time. The story is multilayered and full of symbolism, but it is also fun. The Daylight Gate could be read as a dark gothic fantasy, a feminist parable, a lesbian fairytale or a prose poem.