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Here are the official Reading Group Guide questions for The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland and don't forget to enter your details for a chance to win 1 of 5 free copies **this competition is now closed**

 

• What is the significance of the story of Æthelind, told in the Proem? How does the symbol of the ouroboros, ‘the eternal cycle of death and rebirth’, relate to the rest of the novel?  

 

• Each chapter is framed by an excerpt of medieval superstition or folklore. Does this way of thinking have any relevance in the world today?

 

‘You never find the truth in words, only in a person’s eyes’. Three first person narratives compete for the reader’s attention in the novel. Whose perspective are we more inclined to trust, especially once we learn the identity of the ghost?  

 

• How has your understanding of the Peasants’ Revolt been shaped by the scenes depicting the massacre of the Flemish merchants and the sacking of the Savoy Palace? Is Hankin brave or naive? The author was inspired to tackle this era in the wake of the August riots of 2011. How does this change your view?

 

‘You shall not suffer a witch to live!’ What is Diot’s motivation for her secret nocturnal meetings, given the risk of being caught? Discuss the different styles of witchcraft employed by Catlin, Leonia and Diot. Which of the three would you call witch and why?

 

• Discuss the way the themes of justice, vengeance and retribution are presented in the novel. How is human life valued? How did you feel, for example, about Hankin and Gunter’s lives being traded for those of Martin and his son?

 

• How far can we interpret Catlin’s ruthlessness as resourceful in a time when women were so economically, politically and socially sidelined? Or are her actions wholly evil and condemnable?

 

• Despite his low birth, Gunter’s sense of morality and reason is acute and he finds himself at the centre of several moral dilemmas over the course of the book. Can his relationship with his family, particularly Nonie, survive his attempt to kill Hankin?

 

‘And that is why I adore you, little Maman’. Were you shocked by the identity of Catlin’s lover? Is she capable of loving anyone or is he simply another pawn in her quest to become ‘mistress of all’?

 

• Led away by Diot as their parents burn, what do you think the future holds for the two children? Are Leonia and Catlin as interchangeable in their ability to ‘bewitch’ as Godwin suggests?

 

‘Do all the research, then close the textbooks and just write a cracking good story . . .  The detail has got to be right but you’re telling a story, not writing a history book’ – Karen Maitland, The Bookseller, 2014. How far do you agree with this view? As a reader, what do you expect from a historical novel?