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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short, readable, atmospheric
I enjoyed reading this one afternoon over the Christmas holidays, so I was surprised to read the many negative reviews and wanted to restore some balance.

I freely admit I don't know a lot about the Pendle trials, and I do have a thing about historical accuracy, so this would possibly have annoyed me if I were an expert, but I have checked with a friend in the...
Published 18 months ago by A Ryder

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Messy and muddled (review contains spoilers)
I've loved a lot of Winterson's writing, and have enjoyed other books in this Hammer series - but sadly this combination just doesn't work here. Taking her cue from the real case of the Pendle witches, Winterson pulls together a heady brew of Satanism, anti-Catholicism, rape and sexual violence, torture and death.

The problem is that there's far too much going...
Published 15 months ago by Roman Clodia


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Messy and muddled (review contains spoilers), 22 May 2013
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
I've loved a lot of Winterson's writing, and have enjoyed other books in this Hammer series - but sadly this combination just doesn't work here. Taking her cue from the real case of the Pendle witches, Winterson pulls together a heady brew of Satanism, anti-Catholicism, rape and sexual violence, torture and death.

The problem is that there's far too much going on in such a short novella, and that the whole thing gets increasingly convoluted as stray characters walk in and out. We have incursions, for example, from the retired Shakespeare making cryptic comments about magic, John Dee and Ned Kelley casting spells and appearing both in the flesh and after death, a lesbian love-affair (this is Winterson, after all!), an ex-Gunpowder Plot conspirator, and a magic elixir of youth...

The narrative shifts between `witches' as poor women who are victims of anti-female, anti-Catholic prejudices - and real witches who have sold their souls to the devil, which tends to dilute any political message that the text might want to make. It's also extremely disappointing that the one boon our `real' witch has is the aforesaid magic elixir of youth which keeps her young and beautiful...

So I'm afraid this is a disappointing read which is actually a bit incoherent. There's no historical sense of the seventeenth century, and the gory sex `n' torture scenes feel a bit gratuitous and sensational. An interesting experiment from Ms Winterson but, sadly, not one which worked for me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Winterson's witches are boring, 25 Aug 2012
By 
Sam Quixote - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: The Daylight Gate (Hardcover)
SPOILERS

Alice Nutter is a witch but one of the good ones who uses her powers to keep her looking young and letting the poor live on her land for free. But it turns out one of the poor wretches living on her land is one of the bad witches - who also used to be Alice's girlfriend! But she's all old and wrinkly because The Devil chose Alice instead of her. This might seem important but it's a plot point that's never really built upon so it means absolutely nothing. I mean, is youthfulness purely the only benefit of letting the Devil roger you? How about better powers like immortality?

While "The Daylight Gate" is based on real events - the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 in Lancaster, England - Jeanette Winterson isn't above throwing in some flashback scenes showing a couple of the characters actually doing witch-like stuff, thus giving credence to the ninnies who went around pointing their puritanical fingers at half wits and screaming WITCH! So some of the accused witches were real witches which means... they were right to stand trial? After all the bad witch does try and kill her prosecutor.

Winterson also throws in some not-sexy-at-all group sex scenes and has children being raped throughout all of which amounts to her stern message to the reader - my, things are grim aren't they? Yes Jeanette they are. And?

There's a not-at-all romantic sub plot involving a fictional member of the Gunpowder Plot who somehow manages to survive the brutal torture - if you enjoy lengthy descriptions of torture, you'll love this book! - to escape to France only to return for his sister and Alice, both of whom turn him down leaving him to go to London where he stares out of a window. Effective sub-plot isn't it? He must have a horrible personality for women to actually choose death than live with him.

The book ends with all the accused witches dying - this isn't a spoiler, this is based on real events - and some more useless magic at the end. Seriously, why give your characters actual magical powers if they do absolutely nothing for them? What is Winterson's message about magic - it's real but it's worthless? It doesn't benefit anyone except Alice whose magical powers were the ability to have young looking skin (maybe she's born with it...) and a falcon who rips her throat out when she wants it to.

So "The Daylight Gate" is what happens when you pay so-called literary writers to write genre fiction: a boring mess of one-dimensional characters, an uninteresting story, and some facts you could've looked up on Wikipedia. Witches, witch-hunters and magic are all supposed to be exciting and fun to read about in novels but Jeanette Winterson takes all of that away and leaves you with miserable Northerners doing horrible things to one another - and you still don't care! If you want to read good books about witches try: Shirley Jackson's "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" and "The Witchcraft of Salem Village" (this one is non-fiction but still worth a look) or even Roald Dahl's "The Witches"; don't bother with "The Daylight Gate".
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little too much fiction, 19 Feb 2014
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If you have read (and enjoyed) "Mist over Pendle" by Robert Neill, as I have, then I don't think you will like "The Daylight Gate." Both are based loosely on the events leading up to the witchcraft trials of the early seventeenth century in Lancashire. Their timelines overlap but are not coincident - "The Daylight Gate" starts with an event that occurs two-thirds of the way through "Mist over Pendle" and ends with the execution of the witches, while "Mist over Pendle" ends with the arrest of the witches. My main problem is that, whereas Robert Neill gives rational and plausible explanations of the "witchcraft," Jeanette Winterson seems to imply that there are really supernatural forces at work. In addition, the Lesbian relationship introduced by her seems to me to be gratuitous, unnecessary, and unlikely.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Nothing like the auther has written before, 12 July 2014
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Nothing like the auther has written before. Not to my liking what so ever, gave up part way through the book as could not follow the plot as it jumped from here and there. Will think twice about buying her books again.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Ms Winterson Sells Her Soul, 20 April 2013
By 
The Wolf (uk) - See all my reviews
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I am curious as to how this commission may have come about. An Arrow Books
publication in association with Hammer (as in Hammer Films), the jacket
indicates that the book is "Soon To Become A Major Hammer Film". God forbid!
(One imagines a man in a black cloak coming to Ms Winterson's room at midnight
offering a sheet of parchment and a sharp pin. A contract signed in blood perhaps?)

This retelling of a tale of witchcraft and persecution in early 17th century
Pendle, Lancashire (the trials referred to took place in 1612) is a clumsily
written and grotesquely sensationalist account of an unimaginably horrible crime.
I found myself increasingly troubled by the author's absorption in the
ghastly finer details of abuse and torture of the hugely vulnerable group of
woman and children at the heart of her narrative. One has a sense that the
horror has been ramped-up to the nth degree to fulfill a cinematic brief and
that she has lost touch with the true awfulness of the actual historical events
and the unimaginable suffering of the victims. It is a crude and inhumane vision.

This grubby invention seems in every way to shamefully compromise her craft.

Dreadful.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Daylight Gate, 1 Oct 2013
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Daylight Gate (Hammer) (Kindle Edition)
This novella length read is based on the most notorious of English witch trials - and also the first to be documented - that of the Lancashire (or Pendle) witches in 1612. I know virtually nothing about these events, so I cannot comment on how realistic an account this is, but they are interesting for several reasons; not least because one of the 'witches' on trial was a woman of higher social status and wealth than usual. Winterson weaves a tale around these events, although it is a slightly confusing and extremely dark version that she portrays.

The book begins with pedlar John Law who is taking a short cut through Boggart's Hole in Pendle Forest. It is close to dusk, the so-called 'daylight gate'. He falls and, as he struggles up, he finds Alizon Device in front of him. She curses him when he refuses to stop and then Law sees her grand-dam, old Demdike, with a dead lamb in her arms. Soon he stumbles into the local inn, having, it seems, lost his wits on the way. The women are part of a poverty ridden clan, who live on the land of wealthy Alice Nutter. Alice is single, independent and wealthy - having made her money from the invention of a dye which caught the eye of Elizabeth I - and that is enough to make people whisper 'witch'. For it is less than ten years since the Gunpowder Plot, when Catholic conspirators fled from London to Lancashire - one to Alice Nutter's home. James I is on the throne and Catholicism and witchcraft are seen as virtually interchangeable. Suspicion abounds and, of course, witchcraft is used as an excuse to abuse and violate the poor and defenceless in society.

Winterson does evoke a really atmospheric time and place, although it is not a period of history that I imagine many people would want to return to. The men in charge seem to use the law to their own ends - the word 'witch' is a useful one to throw at a neighbour with whom you have a property dispute, and child abuse, rape and ducking women seem like innocent amusements when men have tired of the inn. The author does not seem to be clear about whether or not to make the women themselves innocent either, with disturbing scenes of grave robbing and the casting of spells; plus side stories about Shakespeare, John Dee, lesbian love affairs, religion and politics. Perhaps the book itself is simply too short to carry so many storylines, although I am glad that I read it and it certainly has an interesting amount to think about. It is my book club's Halloween read and I imagine that it will provide us with a lot to discuss for such a short story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, 18 July 2014
Disappointing as a Winterson fan I expected her usual tapestry of words and characters,felt written in haste,none of her usual thought provoking themes.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Muddled and hastily written, 7 Oct 2013
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I've read a couple of Winterson's novels and thought her autobiography (Why be Happy when you could be Normal?) was one of the best books I read last year, so I thought I would try her latest novel.
Unfortunately it comes across as hastily written (the hardback copy I received from Amazon was riddled with typos), the language is not particularly evocative, and the ideas behind the basic plotline are muddled. I found a lot of it completely implausible and I didn't really feel any empathy for any of the characters. The talking head just made me laugh (sorry!)
I wasn't expecting historical accuracy, but from Winterson I would have expected a bit more scepticism and a feminist outlook on the events of 1612, not so much actual real witchery popery popery witchery, which just came across as faintly ludicrous. I don't mind graphic details, but to be honest a lot of this was lurid and trashy.
Of course, writers don't always do what you might expect them to do, and that's fine, but it just didn't work for me. Probably didn't help that I'd just finished Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, and as a piece of historical fiction this didn't match up to it in any way, shape or form.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Worst book I've ever purchased, 17 May 2014
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This review is from: The Daylight Gate (Hardcover)
Beginning muddle and no end - read like it was written in haste!! So pleased I didn't pay full price!
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short, readable, atmospheric, 8 Feb 2013
By 
This review is from: The Daylight Gate (Hardcover)
I enjoyed reading this one afternoon over the Christmas holidays, so I was surprised to read the many negative reviews and wanted to restore some balance.

I freely admit I don't know a lot about the Pendle trials, and I do have a thing about historical accuracy, so this would possibly have annoyed me if I were an expert, but I have checked with a friend in the know and she advised that the case is remarkable for how few facts are established. Fiction based on fact always treads a fine line concerning truth and decency, but given that the writer has to be free to imagine his or her own story, I don't think Winterson - whose work I hadn't hitherto read - oversteps the line here at all. I do know a bit about 16th and 17th Century English history and I don't find the sexual content unlikely. By our standards this was an absurdly patriarchal and violent society after all, and these were people subsisting on the margins.

As for Alice Nutter's bi-sexuality, perhaps that is an indulgence on the author's part, but it's hardly an outrage or smear on her character to suggest it. I did wonder about the Southworths, and went back to Fraser's 'Gunpowder Plot' volumes to check, and yes, they (and the connection with Dee and Shakespeare) are an addition to the known truth, but again, hardly a heinous link. There are also objections to Alice Nutter's owning a brothel. It's a bit more tentative, in that she isn't the 'Madam', but the absentee landlady. Moral objections are beside the point: Winterson's Alice has risen thanks to learning and skill, and must continue to fend for herself. It could be argued that the prostitutes she allows room in her Thamesside home would otherwise be on the streets.

The other main criticism seems to be that the language is simple, and it is, I assume because of the Hammer branding, but again, this doesn't detract in any way from a dark and gripping tale. The writing is spare and beautiful, which is apt for a book about Pendle.

Comparisons to other fictionalised versions of the trials may be inevitable, and if you want a straightforward, sanitised version of events it sounds like 'Mist over Pendle' is the book for you, but this is an original and literary take on a very disturbing piece of history and a good read.
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The Daylight Gate (Hammer)
The Daylight Gate (Hammer) by Jeanette Winterson
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