I had the amazing opportunity to participate in another instagram readalong – this time reading the Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore with some amazing bookstagrammers. We even had a wonderful Q&A chat with the author once we finished the book. Huge thank you to the team at Tandem as well as the publisher, Granta Books, for sending me a copy of the book to read and review!
About The Book:
England, 1643. Parliament is battling the King; the war between the Roundheads and the Cavaliers rages. Puritanical fervour has gripped the nation, and the hot terror of damnation burns black in every shadow.
In Manningtree, depleted of men since the wars began, the women are left to their own devices. At the margins of this diminished community are those who are barely tolerated by the affluent villagers – the old, the poor, the unmarried, the sharp-tongued. Rebecca West, daughter of the formidable Beldam West, fatherless and husbandless, chafes against the drudgery of her days, livened only by her infatuation with the clerk John Edes. But then newcomer Matthew Hopkins, a mysterious, pious figure dressed from head to toe in black, takes over The Thorn Inn and begins to ask questions about the women of the margins. When a child falls ill with a fever and starts to rave about covens and pacts, the questions take on a bladed edge.
As soon as I laid eyes on the cover and the synopsis, I knew I had to read it. And it didn’t disappoint at all. I just had to shift my expectations a little bit.
The Manningtree Witches is a book set in England in 1643, where witch hunters were quite popular and many women were killed after being accused of witchcraft. This book is actually inspired by true events that happened in history. The focus was more on the historical aspect and bringing life to the characters, rather than the supernatural elements.
We never get a full clarification whether Beldam West, her daughter Rebecca and the other women were actually witches, and we get a glimpse of their lives and their imprisonment. We get a front row seat of their feelings, and how this impacts them as well as the community. It was so interesting to also get a point of view from the perspective of the witch hunter. As the villain that he is, I loved getting to know his opinion on the situation and his reasoning.
“But if a witch can be in two places at once, as you say, then I cannot prove my innocence by those same means. Nor, it seems to me, by any other. I can say again and again, a thousand times, sir, that I am not a witch, and have no traffic with the Devil nor his spirits, and it will account for nothing. But if I say once that I am, then it will account for everything.”
The writing is very lyrical and also captures the old-style English.
I had to refer to my dictionary a few times, which has now become a rare occasion. And I really enjoyed learning some new words. I’m looking at you – lucre, extemporise, gaol, interlocutor and bray! You can immediately notice the love the author has for poetry. It took me a while to get into it, but after 80 pages I started loving it.
There were times when I was confused about whose point of view I am currently reading about. This slightly interrupted my concentration, but the story was wonderful in terms of timeline and storytelling.
The only reason of my rating is because my expectations were different going into the book. My need for paranormal elements and a bit of witchcraft weren’t satisfied. However, putting my expectations aside, this book beautifully represents the reality of witch hunting and the struggles so many women had to endure during these times.
If you want to read a book about the witch hunting in history, The Manningtree Witches is a wonderful lyrical take on the events that happened in Manningtree. However, if you want a book that has more “witchy” elements – I would suggest you skip this one.
About The Author:
A. K. Blakemore is the author of two full-length collections of poetry: Humbert Summer (Eyewear, 2015) and Fondue (Offord Road Books, 2018), which was awarded the 2019 Ledbury Forte Prize for Best Second Collection. She has also translated the work of Sichuanese poet Yu Yoyo (My Tenantless Body, Poetry Translation Centre, 2019). Her poetry and prose writing has been widely published and anthologised, appearing in the the London Review of Books, POETRY, Poetry Review and The White Review, among others.
Her debut novel, The Manningtree Witches, will be published in 2021 by Granta in the UK and Catapult in the US.