The Daylight Gate
By Jeanette Winterson
Arrow Books/Hammer – £7.99
”And there was the little girl Jennet Device, vicious, miserable, underfed and abused. Her brother took her with him to the Dog to pay for his drink. Tom Peeper liked his sexual conquests to be too young to fall pregnant.”
So writes Jeanette Winterson quite early in The Daylight Gate, a powerful novel by a still powerful authoress, whose Written on the Body still remains one of my favourite books of all time. Although this doesn’t compare to it – not many books do – it still resonates with a haunting clarity that is on occassion, darker than a Nick Cave lyric.
Set in Lancaster Gate in 1612, two notorious witches await trial and certain death,while the seductress and well to do Alice Nutter rides to their defence. Meanwhile a Jesuit priest and former Gunpowder plotter leaves France to a place only he believes will offer him some form of sanctuary.
Littered throughout with an assortment of corker one liners such as: ”Sheep graze. Hares stand like question marks.”, ”He is as ugly as a boiled head.”, ”I’d like to see you being pelted with rubbish and soaked in day-old piss.”, ”Everyone in this cell was wholly mad, driven out of their wits by poverty and cruelty.”; the book nevertheless remains anchored to the sort of intelligence one has come to expect of Winterson. A resonating example of which appears in the chapter ‘Hoghton Tower,’ wherein she writes: ”Shakespeare opened the door. He said, ‘Oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles to betray in deepest consequence.”’
The exceedingly thin line betwixt what’s real and what’s imaginary, lurks throughout; and it is this quintessential quality that accounts for The Daylight Gate being something of a roller-coaster ride of a read.