Archive for novel

The Passion, Jeanette Winterson

Posted in Books, Italy with tags , , , , , , on July 19, 2014 by mysearchformagic

It’s been a while since I read a magical book, so this week I picked up an old favourite, and re-read my dog-eared copy of Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion. An epic tale which straddles early nineteenth-century Europe, The Passion is set amongst the frozen wastes of Russia and the exotic, crumbling decadence of Venice. This is the story of Henri, a young Frenchman sent to fight in the Napoleonic wars, and of Villanelle, a cross-dressing Venetian woman, born with webbed feet.


Although the action takes place during the Napoleonic era, and the book conveys a wonderful sense of the period, the author rejects the idea that The Passion is a historical novel. Instead, Winterson suggests that the novel uses history as “invented space”, a setting for magical characters and weird and wonderful events. “The Passion is set in a world where the miraculous and the everyday collide,” she writes on her website. “Villanelle can walk on water. The woman she loves steals her heart and hides it in a jar. This is the city of mazes. You may meet an old woman in a doorway. She will tell your fortune depending on your face. The Passion is about war, and the private acts that stand against war. It’s about survival and broken-heartedness, and cruelty and madness.”

Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson

I particularly love The Passion‘s magical descriptions of Venice, a city that morphs and changes overnight, rising and sinking, a place that is confusing and disorientating for even the inhabitants. Apparently a film version was once on the cards, but it never came to be. I am rather glad to be honest, as I’d prefer to hold on to my own visions of the harsh Russian winter, of that enchanted water-logged city, of the amazing adventures of Henri and Villanelle and the bizarre cast of characters that they encounter on their long, mysterious journey.


The Orphan Choir, Sophie Hannah

Posted in Books, Ghosts, Music with tags , , , , on May 28, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Like a lot of today’s parents, Susannah struggles with the stresses and strains of a modern life. To make things worse, her achingly hip and annoyingly arrogant next-door neighbour has a habit of playing loud rock music late into the night. Her son is a worry too, but not in the fact that he gets under her feet. In fact, quite the opposite; Susannah’s only child Joseph has been sent away to choir school thanks to his incredible vocal talents, and she misses him terribly. Her complaints about that noisy neighbour seem to have a positive effect, but then she begins to hear the distinctive sound of children singing at the strangest moments. The man next door denies all knowledge, and choral music is certainly not his style, but the singing becomes more and more persistent. Her husband Stuart tries to be understanding, but clearly thinks she is losing her marbles. So is the haunting music real, or just in her increasingly confused mind? Is it perhaps even something more supernaturally sinister?
Susannah’s dramatic attempts to regain control of both her son and her senses lead inevitably towards an unsettling, and ultimately tragic, conclusion.

The Orphan Choir. Sophie Hannah

The Orphan Choir. Sophie Hannah

The Orphan Choir is the third Hammer novel that I have read in recent months. It is more subtle than either Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate or Helen Dunmore’s The Greatcoat, and a bit of a slow burner. It’s the kind of book that plays with your mind, blurring the boundaries between reality and imagination, leaving the reader just as confused as to what is really happening as the troubled protagonist. What at first may appear to be middle-class paranoia eventually turns out to be something quite different – this is a Hammer novel after all. Only in the final few pages does the horrible truth come to light, and although it may be predictable, the terrible denouement is none the less shocking because of it. Don’t expect big frights from The Orphan Choir, but give it a bit of time and you will be transfixed by this achingly sad tale of unfulfilled love, soul-destroying loneliness and terrible, heartbreaking loss.

The Daylight Gate, Jeanette Winterson

Posted in Books, History, Jeanette Winterson, Witches with tags , , , , , on October 10, 2012 by mysearchformagic

As all but the most hardy amongst will already have noticed, there’s been a distinct chill in the air for the last week or so, and the nights are drawing in. Autumn is upon us, that most magical of seasons, when dark, chilly evenings are filled with the potential for strange goings-on.

Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate

There’s certainly no better time to enjoy a spooky story, as I recently discovered when I treated myself to a copy of Jeanette Winterson’s latest book, The Daylight Gate. This novella is a collaboration between the writer, well-known for her works including Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and recent autobiography Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, and Hammer Films, who have commissioned a series of horror stories from ‘literary’ writers not usually known for the genre. In the case of The Daylight Gate, the result is certainly creepy, as well as spine-tinglingly magical.

Winterson’s tale is based on the true story of the Pendle Witches, a notorious trial which took place in Lancashire during the reign of James I, a period when the hunting down of so called ‘witches’ was widespread. Today the case is notorious for the cruelty and paranoia which led to the eventual execution of these poor wretches.

Devilish Deeds in Lancashire

The Daylight Gate, however, weaves an powerful, fleshy fiction around the bare bones of the historical case. Typical of Winterson there is magic here, with uncanny apparitions and terrifying premonitions keeping up the pace of the narrative. There’s plenty of erotic encounters too, perhaps appropriate for Hammer, whose 1960s masterpieces tended to include plenty of spicy innuendo or subtle (and not so subtle) sexuality. Most importantly, The Daylight Gate achieves what few novels do in being truly chilling, although the treatment of the ‘witches’ by the authorities is often much more shocking and horrific than any of the story’s  supernatural elements. Winterson effectively recreates the oppressive atmosphere of a time when life was hard and magic was terrifyingly real.

It’s not a long book, but its 193 pages are filled with tension and surprise. I read it in one sitting, by candlelight, alone in the house with just a bottle of red wine for company. As magical experiences go, it’s one that will be hard to beat.