Category Archives: Hammer Horror

The Daylight Gate – Jeanette Winterson

There are some books with which, due to their subject matter, you find yourself being extremely excited about and all at once rather dubious or nervous about before you read them. This was the position I found myself in before reading Jeanette Winterson’s latest novella ‘The Daylight Gate’, for the revived Hammer Horror imprint, as the book centres around The Pendle Witches and their trial. These historical English events have just had their 400th anniversary and still to this day are rather seeped in myth and mystery. Would the book do justice to the legend or was this going to read like a commissioned cash cow? Those were my fears before I turned the first page.

****, Hammer Books, 2012, hardback, fiction, 194 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘The Daylight Gate’ opens with the events that really caused the Pendle Witch Trial. As pedlar John Law met Alizon Device on one of the many tracks around Pendle Hill, on the 21st of March 1612, and she asked him for some pins. He denied her where upon she placed a curse on him. It is from this point that several things including the effects of Alizon’s curse, rumours the Device family were all witches and a supposed meeting of witches in the Malkin Tower on Good Friday that lead to a trail of thirteen people, the biggest England had seen to date. One of these people was Alice Nutter, a loose thread in the whole trial as unlike the other twelve she was a woman on means and money. It is Alice that Winterson focuses on for her fictional telling of the events.

Through Alice we see the events as they unfold with the Device family as they live on her land; we also see what happens when she becomes accused and what life is like in the dungeons of Lancaster Castle, which Winterson brings almost too vividly to life. We also, through her past, get to see how society is at the time, from the reign of Elizabeth I, who we discover is in part responsible for Alice’s wealth, to the reign of James I, a man who brought fear to a nation through fears of his own. I did find the historical context really interesting and have since been off finding out more. I did also find it interesting that Winterson used Alice almost as a thread of narrative on how ill treated independent women were, and with what suspicion they were treated.

With a novel about witches and one by Hammer the natural question is of course’ is this book scary?’ Well no. However it has got the trademark Hammer Horror guts and gore theme running through it. In many ways, with rape, murder, witchcraft rituals and methods of torture all described in quite ‘The Daylight Gate’ is more horrifying than it is scary but that in itself is scary, just not in the ghostly way some people might be expecting. I certainly had no quibbles with being made to feel very squeamish rather than simply screaming my way through reading it.

My only slight quibble with the book was that Alice’s back story, whilst being an integral part of what Winterson’s fictional version of events and enjoyable, seemed to take over the book a little too much. For example she ends up meeting Shakespeare as the trouble is brewing in 1612 and then we hear how they met before, yet oddly it didn’t add anything to the story apart from placing Shakespeare in the narrative. I would have rather had those pages go back to Old Demdike and all that was happening in the castle as it was there that the book worked its magic the most.

Pendle Hill as taken by me in February, more on that tomorrow…

Overall though I was really rather spellbound by ‘The Daylight Gate’. I came away feeling like I knew more about the Pendle Witch trials, if not the witches so much, and how people’s lack of knowledge and some men’s desire for infamy created it all. I also just fell into the story even when it took me places I wasn’t expecting, but that in itself was all part of the enjoyment. I would definitely recommend this for curling up with on a dark and stormy night by the fire.

I will be back tomorrow with more from Pendle Hill itself.

Advertisements

19 Comments

Filed under Hammer Horror, Jeanette Winterson, Review

The Greatcoat – Helen Dunmore

When I heard that Hammer Horror were going into a publishing partnership with Random House I was instantly excited. I do love a good ghost story and who better than Hammer to bring the genre back again. The first of the novellas to come out is ‘The Greatcoat’ by Helen Dunmore, not an author I have to admit I would have associated with ghost stories, I was intrigued.

Hammer Horror Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 196 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Ghost stories are always really difficult to write too much about as they work best when the reader knows very little and so they can work their suspenseful magic. This is something Dunmore does very well and it would be bad of me to spoil any of this. I will however give you the premise. Our narrator Isabel is a young woman, recently married, taking on the life as doctor’s wife in a small English town in the countryside near York in the early 1950’s. As a new found housewife Isabel is unsure what to do, she feels the locals love her husband yet don’t feel so inclined towards her and so she leads a solitary life under the roof of her slightly disapproving landlady. However when she discovers an wartime greatcoat in her flat there is soon a rapping at her windows when her husband is on call one night things begin to change.

That sounds incredibly vague but really it’s all I want to say about the premise, what I can talk more about are the factors of what makes a great ghost story and the way Dunmore uses them to create a quietly gripping tale with ‘The Greatcoat’ which gets under your skin more than you think.

The first thing you need in a great ghost story is the perfect location ripe for a spooky atmosphere. Isabel leads a solitary life in a small town, often frequented by fogs, surrounded by fields and nothingness, well apart from a disused over grown dank airfield. The second is the question of a narrators reliability, Isabel spends a lot of time on her own and her husband Philip starts to notice that she not only becomes slightly too attached to an item of seemingly forgotten clothing from the war but that gin is disappearing in the house. Is Isabel really coping with her newfound life, could more be going on than meets the eye.

You also need unease and here I think Dunmore created her finest character in the form of Mrs Atkinson the landlady. Does she go into Isabel and Philip’s flat when they aren’t there? Is she moving things? Why does she seem to intensely dislike Isabel from the off? Why does she walk back and forth in her room upstairs all night long? As you can probably imagine I loved Mrs Atkinson and was most intrigued by her, there is a slight Mrs Danvers likeness about her.

Finally and most importantly you need a good ghost. Should the ghost at any point seem unreal then all the work the author has put in is lost for good. Well, again without giving anything too much away here, Helen Dunmore does something very clever because we have an initial obvious (but believable) ghost and then as the story goes on we realise there might be more than one ghostly thing going on, if not more. That sounds incredibly vague yet again, but sadly I must be if not to ruin everything should you read the book.

‘The Greatcoat’ is a very good ghost story. It didn’t scare me like I imagined it would (though there is one scene with a fingernail and a tap-tap-tapping which did bother me quite a lot), possibly because this was after all a Hammer Horror book so I had hyped it in my head a little, but the unease builds and just when you think you have worked it all out, or that it might all be over, like the best ghost stories there are some very clever twists in the end you don’t see coming.

I am very interested to see what the next Hammer release, written by Jeanette Winterson and based on the British legend/true story of the Pendle Witches, is like as they have certainly got off to a very promising start. I am also looking forward to seeing ‘The Woman in Black’ tomorrow, how I have managed not to dash to the cinema and see it for so long I do not know.  What’s your favourite ghost story?  Have you read any of Helen Dunmore’s other novels, should I give them a whirl?

19 Comments

Filed under Hammer Horror, Helen Dunmore, Random House Publishing, Review