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Of Fanaticism and Cult

I read two books of similar theme. One about a witch hunt in Lancashire during the time King James I and the other about a mother and her daughters who ran away from a cult and found themselves lost in the outside world and bonded to what they left behind.


The Daylight Gate is Winterson’s latest novella. It is set in 1612, during the paranoia of King James I to hunt down witches. So in Lancaster Castle two notorious witches await trial and certain death, while the beautiful and wealthy Alice Nutter rides to their defence.

But Alice Nutter is also hiding a Jesuit priest and former Gunpowder Plotter, Christopher Southworth, on his way to France to seek refuge as the local magistrate, Roger Nowell, wants him caught. Alice Nutter is not spared of suspicions of practising witchcraft and how did she stay beautiful despite her age? How safe can anyone be in Witch country?

This novella is based on true life characters but Jeanette Winterson has took the liberty to narrate it in her own spin of horror and sensuality. There are grisly description of torture and exhumed corpse, rape and nudity. For those who knew about the history will appreciate this a little bit more and knew how the book will end. The hangings and burnings are sure to come, but along the way you may be held in suspense of accusations against Alice, a refugee on the run and the cameo appearances of several historical and literary celebrities.

it is the early 17th-century Britain. The squalor, religious fanatism, witch hunt, the subjugation of women and prostituting of children, the persecution of Catholics. Poverty. Sickness and horrible condition in prison….. The book was too gruesome to my liking. The characters under Alice Nutter’s care and living in her estate were a despicable lot. The story too short for me to invest in any of the characters. The book is good for a rainy day or a Halloween read. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected.

Rating: two and half stars

Paperbook. Publisher:  Arrow Book (Hammer) 2012 Printed Length: 224 pages; Setting: Lancashire, UK. Source: Westminster Library. Finished reading on: 6 May 2013, Monday.

Amity-and-SorrowAmity and Sorrow

Amaranth (Amy) and her daughters, Amity and Sorrow, are on the run for four days without sleep until mom crash their car in rural Oklahoma. Amaranth is running away from a close-knit community and her husband. Her husband built a temple over the grave of his second wife. Amaranth is the first, and married 50 wives in total.

They crashed close to the house of Bradley who lives with his old father and a boy named Dust. Bradley still grieving over his wife who walks out on him and did not welcome the presence of Amaranth and the girls in his house with open arms. In his mind, they were very strange but over time they form a new kind of family.

The book goes back and forth of Amity and Sorrow new lives and the one they left behind. Mostly through Amy’s eyes, she recalled how she was lost and found a home with her husband, Zachariah and how the church is built. Amity and Sorrow have grew up in the polygamous compound and cannot imagine any other world than the one they know. There were no TV, no school, no library nor computers. They were given skills for Armageddon and taught to want nothing but the end of the world. They were even forbid to go out in the fields. Amity and Sorrow are strapped at the wrist (see the USA edition book cover) because Sorrow wants to go home and couldn’t be trusted without a “leash”.

While Amy trying to earn her keep in Bradley’s home, she also remembers and misses her life at the commune. One of the things that make me think is that although we abhor polygamy and doesn’t see any good in the practice, the novel does bring out the good of it. Bond by one man, the women help each other out, they raise each other’s children and they shared everything, where a mass prayer and worship conjure a rare love, in Amy’s words “An ecstasy in worship I did not think I had the right to feel. I don’t want you to think it was dirty or shameful.” Those who are deep in prayer, would experience this before. All Amy wanted to feel is to be a part of a family, to feel a part of something bigger and older and deeper than herself. Of course, we knew that her husband is going about it in the wrong way and I read the novel to find out if Amy will come to her senses and make a stand to overturn what she believes. Of all those days and years of the numb feeling of watching her husband marry one woman after another, surely she knew it was wrong?

The writing is a little patchy and Riley doesn’t spell out in full what she meant to say (for example: the last line: See how they twitch and they want. (??)). Since I read this very quickly, I may have missed something. I think it is worth to re-read again one day. I thought the story is intriguing and thought provoking. I cringed at the religious fanatism and the wrong beliefs that was misconstrued as being the truth. The spinning and the ultra strange ritual of prayer make no sense. Despite their strange and erratic behaviours, ultimately the female characters in this novel are victims and I can’t help but feel sad for them. I read a similar Mormon story in The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff in March 2009 and I still find The 19th wife more entertaining than Amity and Sorrow.

Home isn’t made or chosen, like she says it is. Family isn’t handmade or reworked like cloth. Family is family that God gives you, the family He wants you to have, even if it hurts you. The hurting is what He is teaching you. That hurting is your family.

I thank the publisher Little Brown for sending this to me, unrequested. 😉

Rating: three and a half stars

Judith@leeswammes: I really enjoyed reading this. The story is told in a kind of simple, sparse narrative that tells the reader enough to follow the story, but also makes curious as to the full story.

Kindle. Publisher: Little Brown 2013 (USA), Tinder Press (UK) Printed Length: 336 pages; Setting: Utah and Oklahoma, USA. Source: Netgalley. Finished reading on: 19 May 2013, Saturday.

Peggy RileyAbout the writer:

Peggy Riley, 47, grew up in Los Angeles, studied theater at Cal State-Fullerton and moved to London to pursue playwriting. She also has run a bookstore and been a writer-in-residence at a prison for young offenders. She lives on the North Kent coast of England with her husband, an actor. Riley was inspired by A newspaper image — a wooden church on fire on an empty prairie, which got her wondering “why the church was on fire and who had started it.” She knew the novel would begin with a church on fire.

Riley comes from a long line of Quakers, Puritans and Presbyterians on her mother’s side, and angry Catholics on the other. She is not religious, but she admits being spiritual in her own quiet way.

Source: USA Today


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


6 thoughts on “Of Fanaticism and Cult

  1. Sounds like you’ve been reading some interesting books recently.

    Posted by jessicabookworm | May 19, 2013, 9:04 am
  2. I read and reviewed Winterson’s book a while back and really didn’t like it at all. I found it too gruesome. It generated quite a discussion ion my blog at the time, some people I think even read it just to see how justified the gruesome episode were. I’m not squeamish but that was over the top. But I think I’d like to read Peggy Riley’s book.

    Posted by Caroline | May 21, 2013, 3:13 pm
    • Caroline,
      It’s true. I am not squeamish too but find it a bit icky. I’m going to read your review now. I look forward to hear what you think about Amity and Sorrow! Thanks for dropping by Caroline.

      Posted by JoV | May 22, 2013, 9:05 pm
  3. Winterson’s novels are not easy reads in my experience, I am looking forward to reading her memoir though. Maybe soon as I’m reading Emma Brocke’s memoir at the moment, so might link in well.

    Posted by Claire 'Word by Word' | May 26, 2013, 7:35 am

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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