Fletcher invokes a vivid and evocative world in a novel of extraordinary imagination.
Lonesome? Me? Never and always.
These are the words of Corag and this is her story; a retelling of a life spent in fear, chased by hatred and cast into lonely shadows all because she was suspected and accused of being a witch. For the first time Susan Fletcher gives a loud, passionate and brave voice to a recess of women for whom life in the seventeenth century meant always running and hiding from the ignorance and prejudices of a dangerously ill-informed society.
The effect is at times devastating and always mesmerizing, prepare to be transported into the depths of one girls intense loneliness in a novel that offers fresh insight into a much forgotten subject.
It may be worth noting that much of the story is based on historical facts and indeed the Glen Coe massacre that is portrayed within the book is based on real events that transpired. There was also, according to folklore, a girl called Corag who helped those who were attacked in this atrocious crime.
There was also a man named Charles Leslie who set out on his mission to unveil the truth of this crime, and although it is not known that he met Corag he did interview survivors and so his encounter with Corag in the novel is a feasible one.
The fact that much of what transpires within the story is based on history on adds a sense of sadness and disbelief that cruelty and human suffering of such depths existed.
The novel begins with a letter from Leslie to his wife were he declares his journey to met with the girl they call a witch who he hopes, despite despising the thought of meeting her, to find out the true story of what occurred in the recent massacre that saw the entire Macdonald Clan of Clencoe be cruelly murdered. He suspects that the killings were ordered by King William, a man many Jacobites like Mr Leslie believe should not be upon the throne. In his mission and in his desperation to uncover the true reality of the kings enemies and their slaughter Mr Leslie prepares to meet Corag.
Much of the story is told by Corag in what can be seen as quite an intense but certainly original style of story telling. She recounts for Mr Leslie all that she has seen and experienced in her life of purgatory and loneliness. The only respite from her strange story being the letters from Mr Leslie in which he eventually comes to soften to this strange, childlike creature.
If the subject matter of the story is sometimes heavy and laden with sadness then it is rescued by Corag’s infinite love and passion for life and nature. If like me you appreciate nature and long for the country but are trapped in urban city life then you are guaranteed to be swept away by the magic and emotion with which Corag speaks of the world. People will often hasten to say an author has an emotive or transporting sense of writing but this sentiment is not out of touch here.
Fletcher truly captivates her audience and knows that long, probably at times pain staking attention to detail, can, when done well, be rewarding and inspiring. Corag’s outlook on life and appreciation for natural beauty is also fresh and fascinating to read.
She talks of souls and hearts and the importance of nurturing them in order to become in tune with one’s self. She describes the beauty of a waterfall, the sublime pleasure of drinking from a creek. Corag may have been cast aside from society and she may quite rightly fear other people but this only gives her a stronger more intense connection to the world around her.
In time Corag comes to tell Mr Leslie of her life and how she fled her ‘first life’ because her own mother was hung for her suspected identity as a witch. She left on her mare and travelled for a year, hiding in shadows, coming out at night when it was safer and above all avoiding the people who hated her so passionately. She ran until she came to a place that she could call home, Glen Coe, and it is here that she learnt that some people, even those who are described to be as savage as the Macdonald’s, could be kind and could be loved.
She comes to tell him the truth of what happened in that notorious glen and Mr Leslie too comes to learn that there is a magic in us all, that this small, frail creature is not to be despised, she is to be admired for her bravery and constant optimism in a world that has always tried to break her.
The novel is actually surprisingly upbeat despite its shocking subject matter. It’s easy to become immersed in Corag’s world and I often found myself wondering what it would be like to live such a simple but enriched life-like Corag. Living and working in harmony with nature.
It’s only afterwards that the reality that this story is exposed that we are left to ponder the atrocities that took place at this time. It is then that Fletcher truly allows us to wonder at the disturbing lengths that human fear and ignorance can drive us too.
A truly original and touching story written by an author whose deep connection with her subject matter is always evident and a story that shines light and love on some of histories darkest and cruellest times.
Have you read this book or anything else by Susan Fletcher? If so what did you think? Did you like me finish it feeling inspired and touched by Corag’s poetic prose? Or can you recommend any other novels by Fletcher?