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Book review - The Manningtree Witches

I wasn't prepared for how much I would love this book. It's that rare experience where you are so transported you forget you're reading a book with structure and technique - it's so, well, bewitching.

There are no obvious twists or cliffhangers - there are no visible seams or corners and it is a beautiful read because of it.

The characters are so well drawn that despite it being set in the Witchfinder General times of 1643 there is no lengthy exposition, no need to draw out the details at all; everyday lives in an Essex community are shown in all their daily, fractious glory. It is not an easy read in places and can even be claustrophobic; the helplessness of the women in the face of raging misogyny and the way it impacts their relationships with each other is so insightfully imagined.

As the debt novel of a poet, Blakemore's language is always just right while at the same time lending an intelligence to the central character Rebecca West that sets her apart from the rest. Their acceptance of the punishments meted out to them is poignant; they never stood a chance in the witchcraft trials and it's almost as if they believe the accusations themselves.

I can't recommend this book enough if you want a truly transporting, intelligent read that feels like a fresh view on the age of the Witchfinder.


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