heretic's daughter

Salem, Massachusetts, 1692. A young woman is hanged, unyielding in her refusal to admit to being a witch.

You Sarah Carrier is bright and wilful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which her family lives. In this startling novel, she narrates the story of her early life in Andover, near Salem. Her father is English in origin, quietly stoical but with a secret history. Her mother Martha is a herbalist, tough but loving. Despite their conflicts, it is clear that Martha understands her daughter like no other. When Martha is accused of witchcraft, and the whisperings in the community escalate, she makes Sarah promise not to stand up for her in court. As Sarah and her brothers are hauled into the prison themselves, the vicious cruelty of the trials becomes apparent. The Carrier family, along with other innocents, are starved and deprived of any decency, battling their way through the hysteria with the sheer willpower their mother has taught them.

This novel was popular with most of our group. They felt the author created the time and place well, with believable characterisations, great language and descriptive passages. We had a good discussion on mother/daughter relationships and the notorious unpredictability of teenage girls. Joan mentioned the parallel traits of 17th century girls and those of today. Is bullying through a Puritan court the same a bullying through Facebook? We all agreed that the passage of time does little to change human behaviour and went on to discuss the environment of fear that even today is created as a way of controlling society. Do we learn from the past? It would appear not.

Everyone found the account of Martha’s imprisonment graphic and at times hard to read. The combination of mass hysteria, ignorance and superstition had us all reeling from the injustice placed upon these poor people, and found ourselves incredulous of Viti’s story of some relations in a small village in Kent that seriously believed a homeless woman to be a witch. And this was in the 1970s!

There were some criticisms from a few members who found the story too much akin to The Crucible, and felt there was nothing new here. Also the slow start and unlikable personality of the narrator, Sarah, had both Nancy and Chris struggling to appreciate the book. But in general, The Heretic’s Daughter scored high with our group and, like our member Kathy, if you haven’t read The Crucible, you will no doubt thoroughly enjoy this one!