Corrag: A Novel
By Susan Fletcher
W.W. Norton & Company
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this book. It’s historical fiction (which I adore), set in Scotland, (a favorite setting of mine), features Highlanders as characters, (see previous), and is about a woman accused of witchcraft. All things I usually enjoy entangled in a story. What I found was something entirely different and not all bad either.
Corrag is a woman accused of witchcraft and slated to burn for her wanton ways. It’s 17th Century Scotland and the accusation of witchcraft is common enough for women who have an understanding of medicinal herbs, are outspoken, and in some cases misunderstood. Corrag is a mixture of all the above. She’s a very small person, so small that some think of her as a child and in many ways she is childlike. She was the only daughter of a woman hung for being a witch, has little education, and has been on the run for most of her life in search of a place to feel safe. She finds that place in the Highlands of Scotland. The MacDonald clan, which is settled in the area Corrag decides to call home, welcomes her and she feels finally at peace in the world. When the clan is massacred by English soldiers, she is thrown in jail to await her death. While there, a man named Charles Leslie comes to hear her story and hopefully find out more about the massacre. What he finds is a filthy woman with a tale that will astound him.
This story is told by Corrag and is broken up by letters from Charles to his wife. While Corrag’s story does skip around (She fully admits to being a rambler and in some places I felt inpatient with her telling.), but eventually she weaves a tale that makes your heartbreak. It’s not only about the massacre but there’s also an interesting love story between Corrag and Alasdair MacDonald. He’s married and while her heart breaks for him, she refuses to break the vow he has made to his wife. I almost wish that it was a different story but the way Fletcher chose to tell it made sense from the perspective of Corrag.
It’s also a story about an incredible woman who showed little fear even when facing her own death. She spent a great deal of her life alone, by choice, and was raised by a mother who told her never to love. Corrag understood why her mother told her that but lets herself experience it anyway. Becoming involved with the clan creates a life she never imagined possible. She stops being this strange figure and starts to see herself in a better light.
I enjoyed this book but it does move slowly. I’ll admit to taking a few breaks and moving on to another story while in the midst of this one. I wanted very much to know what happened to the MacDonald clan and Corrag takes her time getting to that part. Yes, I understand this was about her telling her tale so that someone knew her fully before she died, but some of it was too meandering. In the end, I was happy to have finished it. Fletcher is an interesting writer and at times can also be quite lyrical. Descriptions of places and Corrag’s thoughts added wonderful touches to the story.
Fletcher is a new to me writer but I plan to look up a few of her previous novels and see how this one compares.
I received a copy of this book through the Early Reviewers Program on Librarything.