The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

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The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: If you didn't think Jeanette Winterson and the world of Hammer Horror could meet successfully, then think again.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: August 2012
Publisher: Hammer
ISBN: 9780099561859

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1610s Lancashire, and Alice Nutter is the best landowner you could wish for. Single, rich and connected, she takes no sides in the religious schisms James I has inherited, and takes no bull from those trying to oppress the poor, putting them up and feeding them when no-one else will. But those poor are seen as sinful by others - amoral, dirty in mind, body and spirit, and in league with the devil. And people are beginning to question Alice's attitudes, choice of company - and ageless beauty. This, then, is the based-on-truth story of how Alice Nutter got to be one of the accused in the Pendle Witch trials.

It is also one of the lead titles in the launch of Hammer books, and boy have they hit the ground at a most appropriate run. While it doesn't seem to be the typical Jeanette Winterson novel, it does feature religious intolerance and lesbian sex, and neither are new to her oeuvre. Nor is a northern setting, nor a look at the bending of truth and fantasy, and the wish-fulfilment of those wanting more.

So this is not just a case of an author following a commission, but it almost seems to be, so brilliantly has Winterson followed the Hammer tradition. Here are black masses, dark spells, heaving bosoms and evil not as some tremendous CGI effect, but starting from something as base as bigotry. Only the fact the characters seem like real people and not stereotypical yokels stops this from creating that lost Hammer classic in the reader's mind.

I could have called this a teen read but for two or three more graphic scenes; generally, though, the style is in keeping with films that are hardly worth rating as certificate 15 any more, being as it is full of short chapters and even shorter sentences.

It takes Winterson back to her earlier, shorter titles, and to my mind when her imagination was at her highest. While there are undoubted fantasies at flight here there are also the bones of history, and this serves those well by covering the politics of the time intelligently. The historian may scoff but those seeking the riches and depths of dark fantasy, where there's lots of macabre and the arcane yet nought so evil as humans, will relish this short novel.

With one huge film (based on The Woman in Black by Susan Hill) written and adapted by women, and two launch books both at the hands of females, Hammer show the power of women engaging with the dark side, and seeing what comes across at dusk. This story embodies that very well indeed.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy. We also have a review of Winterson's The Gap of Time.

The Pendle Witches have been dealt with before - we really appreciated Burning Issy by Melvin Burgess as a teen read good enough for all, that puts a fictional character in the mix.

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