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Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Witch’s Cradle, by Gillian White, Reviewed.

Some novels are not created to be enjoyed but to inspire, educate, shock, grip or horrify. Gillian White manages to do all these things in The Witch’s Cradle. It took me longer than usual to read this book, simply because the tale is so dense with event and so drenched in emotion that I was unable to read more than a portion at any one sitting.

The inclusion of short quotes from that evil medieval book, The Malleus Maleficarum (another title on my ‘to read’ list) points the reader to the author’s views of events and the depiction of the central heroine. And, heroine she is. Misguided, naïve, ignorant, intelligent, forceful, needy, determined and courageous, Cheryl battles against forces both external and internal in her desperate fight to do what she feels is best for her children. Husband, Barry, emerges from youthful sulkiness and self-defeat to become a mature and pragmatic adult.

The villains, and they are real, appalling and credible people, are the sort of people you will want to hit on sight. I won’t give names here, as the clever way in which the tale is written allows for any of a number of characters to be good, bad, wicked, angelic, ordinary or impressive. I dislike clichés but this is a roller coaster of immense proportions.

Don’t read it before you go to bed if you’re in any way sensitive about justice, family welfare, women’s rights, the politics of expediency or the growing gap between rich and poor. Or, if you must, at least read or watch something light and fluffy before you put your head on that pillow. I had three nights of seriously interrupted sleep whilst reading this book. You have been warned.

Mostly very well written, there are odd passages where a lack of attribution makes it unclear who is speaking. There are occasional places where tense is a variable factor. I have my suspicions that these apparent lapses are, in fact, deliberate techniques by the author to place in the reader’s mind the sense of utter confusion and disorientation so frequently experienced by Cheryl as she passes through several sorts of Hell.

The denouement builds compellingly and, during this part of the book, I was unable to put it down until I had finished it, regardless of other circumstances. The very last two pages remain something of a mystery to me, in the sense that they introduce an element of fantasy that is not present throughout the rest of the book. But I think the author is trying to express ideas through the eyes of the protagonists in this: I just don’t think this one aspect has worked as well in these two pages as it does throughout the rest of the book. But it’s probably me and my own prejudices here. Who knows?

Suffice it to say that I’m more than glad that I read this book. It isn’t a piece of work that can be labelled enjoyable or entertaining. But it is a compelling read and the characters are so well crafted that the reader becomes intimately involved with them to the extent that it becomes impossible to leave them to their fate. I found I must discover what happened as each episode unfolded and led to yet another. As an exposé of the ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary, this works superbly. I shall never watch another without this tale informing my credibility.

Yes; I recommend this book. But it comes with that warning: be prepared to be kept awake and to have some of your precious preconceptions given a severe bashing.

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