Corrag by Susan Fletcher
Fourth Estate, London, 2010
A US edition published by W.W. Norton and Company was made available on November 15, 2010.
Sent to me by Teresa at Shelf Love ages ago. Thank you so much, I am glad I finally read it.
The story of Corrag is based on a true event.
On February 13, 1692, in a place called Glencoe, in the Highlands of Scotland, 37 members of the MacDonald clan were killed. Many others lost their lives when they were forced to hide in the mountains after their homes were destroyed. It was said they were slain by their guests, soldiers sent by King William. The MacDonald clan had been feeding and housing them for weeks. Who committed these murders? Was it the King’s men? Was it a rival clan?
Charles Leslie, a supporter of the ousted King James, arrived in the area to find out the truth. Corrag, a wild young woman, had been arrested and accused of being a witch. It had been reported that she had witnessed the massacre and Leslie wishes to interview her.
What did you have, in your head? Which witch?
I know that all people have a certain creature in their head when they hear it – a women mostly. Pitch-dark and cruel, crooked with age. Did you think she will be mad, this witch? I might be. It’s been said. I prattle, I play with my hands and bring them up to my face when I speak like this, as a mouse may with its paws as it eats or cleans itself. My voice is shrill and girlish – this has been called proof, for they say the devil took my lower voice away and ate it up to make his own voice deeper. Which is a lie, of course. I am small, so my voice is small, too – that’s all. From page 32
The novel moves back and forth between these two voices. Corrag speaking to Charles, telling him her history, and what she witnessed at Glencoe, and Charles writing letters to his wife, Jane,at home in Ireland.
Corrag tells Charles of her early life in a small village, the child of an unmarried woman. Of her journey into the north, into a hidden valle,y where she uses skills learned from her mother to heal and to gain entry to the close-knit clan of MacDonald.
The novel is beautifully written. Fletcher’s characters come alive through her poetic language. Corrag’s voice, her stories, her thoughts, bring the land to life. I found her beautiful and profoundly wise. She is of the earth and sky, and even with her harsh life she is able to see beauty in the world around her.
Those winter nights, I’d look out at the huge sides of snowy rocks which grew about me, and I’d see their eerie colours – grey, black, blue. Then I would go inside, where my fire spoke to itself. But still, I felt them. In my hut, I was still aware of the mountains looking down on me. I could feel their height, and darkness. I thought of their age, of what they had seen, and as I tucked up my fire I thought they glow…Like living things. Their frost glinted on me, and their breath was icy-cold. From page 178.
And Charles is an interesting character, too. What he sees and what he hears changes him over time.
I hope I stay briefly in this town. It is merely a resting place, before I head north to this ravaged glen. This witch was there, my love. She was at the murders, and saw them with her eyes. I am not keen to visit her, or spend time with such a cankered godless piece – nor do I wish to get her lice. But I must remember my cause. If she was at these deaths than she must have her uses. She will have seen the red-coats – and any word, even a witch’s, is a better word then none. From page 26.
I am a different man to the man who rode into Inverary, shivering and old. I wrote of my hatred for witch. I wrote scornful words, and damning ones, and did I not support her coming death? I am different, now. The thought of her death troubles me – I can not lie, or pretend otherwise. Corrag speaks of goodness, largely, and beneath the knots and dirt and blood I see how delicate she is – how frail. From page 181.
This novel is layered in British history, politics and the persecution of woman and yet never feels weighed down by any of it. It is history that comes alive and it is also a love story. I found it difficult to put down, will keep it to read again. Susan Fletcher has written two other novels, Eve Green and Oystercatchers: A Novel. I hope my library has them.