I first became aware of this book when Boof of The Book Whisperer said it was one of her favourites. I’ve been curious to see why she loved it so much and now that I’ve read it I agree that it’s a great book, although I didn’t think so at first.
In Corrag Susan Fletcher looks at one tragic moment in Scotland’s history – the Glencoe Massacre of 1692 in which thirty-eight members of the MacDonald clan were murdered by English soldiers and forty more died of exposure as they tried to escape. The story is narrated by Corrag, a young woman who has been branded a witch and sentenced to death for her involvement with the MacDonalds and the part she played in trying to prevent the massacre. As Corrag sits in her cell awaiting her death, she is visited by Charles Leslie, an Irish clergyman and Jacobite who is trying to find evidence to prove that the Protestant King William III was responsible for what happened at Glencoe.
Corrag tells Charles Leslie about her childhood in the north of England and the day her mother, who had also been accused of witchcraft, told her to ride into Scotland, where she believed she would be safe. With only her grey mare for company, Corrag rode “north and west” and made a new home for herself near the valley of Glencoe. Here she met the people of the MacDonald clan and experienced true friendship and love for the first time in her life. As Leslie listens to Corrag’s memories he begins to learn the truth about the Glencoe Massacre and at the same time is forced to change his own preconceived ideas about Corrag herself.
I wasn’t sure about this book when I first started reading. I actually put it down after the first chapter and decided it wasn’t for me. But then something made me pick it up a few days later and try again. Corrag’s narrative style is so unusual and original, it took me a few chapters to get used to it but after that I started to fall in love with the beautiful, lyrical writing. The writing style gives the book a very strong sense of time and place and I felt as if I was really listening to a voice from the past. Corrag is also very observant and appreciates the little details of life that most of us would never even notice. I loved seeing the beauty of the Highlands through her eyes as she rode through Scotland on her grey mare.
Each chapter of Corrag’s story is followed by a letter written by Charles Leslie to his wife at home in Ireland, telling her about his experiences in Scotland and how his opinions about Corrag are changing as he learns more about her life. Corrag of course has not done anything to deserve the accusations of witchcraft; she’s an innocent woman who loves the natural world and has a knowledge of herbalism and healing, like her mother before her and like many other innocent women who were burned at the stake. And yet no matter how hard things get for Corrag and how much cruelty she experiences at the hands of other people she remains a loving, kind-hearted person and never loses her faith in human nature.
Corrag is a beautiful, moving story and I’m so glad I didn’t give up on it.
Note: This book has also been published under the titles of Witch Light and The Highland Witch.