The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland

Posted by Guy Pringle, 31st July 2014

In a THEY SAY, WE SAY in nb82 we looked at Karen Maitland's new novel, The Vanishing Witch, as we had been big fans of her bestselling and critically acclaimed debut Company of Liars.

 

We revisit the book here because we now have on site (see Home page) a reading group guide AND a competition to win one of 5 copies of the book which is published on August 14th.

 

Fingers crossed you're one of them.

Yours,

Guy

 

THIS IS WHAT THEY SAID . . .

The new novel is set against the backdrop of the tumultuous events of The Peasants’ Revolt of the 14th century. Karen was inspired to do so by the August riots of 2011, whose simultaneous eruption around the country was blamed on social media and mobile devices. She was fascinated that similar rioting occurred around the country in the summer of 1381 at a time when there was no such means of communication. How did news spread so quickly between remote communities? Is there more to it than first meets the eye? Karen’s imagination was off and running . . .

The Vanishing Witch is set in Lincoln and primarily within the household of Robert, a wealthy wool merchant, who has recently been befriended by Catlin, a generous and kind widow seeking his financial advice. Gradually, she inveigles herself into Robert’s inner sanctum and when his wife becomes ill, Catlin is the person to tend her. For news is reaching Lincoln that the peasants are unhappy and Robert, along with other land and business owners, is often called away to keep his tenants in line.

When Robert’s wife dies, Catlin and her two children move in to Robert’s household, but his own two sons are deeply suspicious of Catlin’s motive.

Karen Maitland has a deft touch; the dark ages have never felt so alive in fiction. With her unusual perspective on historical events and insight into a less familiar period of British history, Karen writes novels that lend themselves to discussion and debate. The historical notes alone always elicit terrific dinner party conversation.

 

AND THIS IS WHAT YOU SAID . . .

Effortlessly weaving supernatural elements with historical fact, the interpretation of The Peasants’ Revolt from its ungainly beginning in 1380, runs alongside the story of Robert of Bassingham, a wealthy Lincolnshire wool merchant, whose unwise relationship with an inscrutable widow, will have far-reaching consequences.

Walking the medieval streets of Lincoln in the company of Karen Maitland is like stepping from a superior time travel machine, and even though you know that the world outside your door belongs to the 21st century, your mind is easily convinced that medieval England actually co-exists in the here and now.

The book has more than enough content to generate an interesting book group discussion particularly amongst those groups who enjoy good historical fiction.

Josie Barton

Personal read . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .★★★★★

Group read. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .★★★★★

 

This darkly gothic tale is a story of treachery and revenge with an air of menace and foreboding woven through the story linked to the charms used to ward off evil that start each chapter.

Set mainly in Lincoln it follows Robert, a wealthy merchant whose life changes after he meets the mysterious widow Mistress Catlin. I thought the book was excellently written and it kept me turning the pages long into the night. I loved the vivid sometimes grotesque descriptions of medieval life which really brought the period to life for me.

Emma Barraclough

Personal read . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ★★★★

Group read. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .★★★

 

I could wax lyrical about Karen Maitland’s clever blend of historical fact and folklore, about her clever use of the omnipotent ghost narrator, but what made me stay up reading into the early hours of the morning was that it is a brilliant story, the sort that instantly drew me in and the characters captivated me with their idiosyncrasies. I adored Mavet, the ghost ferret, even if he is symbolic of death; he and his ghostly fleas amused me. Set around the time of The Peasants’ Revolt when witchcraft or the suspicion of witchcraft was rife, there is plenty within the book for book groups to discuss. A perfect blend of crime, the supernatural, and the complexity of human relationships. I loved it.

Jan Smith

Personal read . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .★★★★★

Group read. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ★★★★

 

This book is easy to read, well written and compelling. I found it difficult to put down because the writing so engaged me that a mere glance at the following page gripped me and obliged me to continue reading. The plot guarantees a multitude of mischievous predicaments and horrors all set within the later fourteenth century.

I enjoyed reading Maitland’s descriptions of life, which enable the plot to foreground against a background of life where danger was always present, where people lived shorter lives, and their dead, the supernatural, religion, medicine and magic lay close together; and where only justice and equality were out of reach except where roles are reversed in moments of unusual empowerment during The Peasants’ Revolt.

Jim Aird

Personal read . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ★★★★

Group read. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ★★★★

Post Comment

Name
Email
Captcha
Please enter this security word in the field below (this is to prevent spam from bots)
Comment

back to articles Back to articles