Book Review: The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

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Title: The Daylight Gate

Author: Jeanette Winterson

Genre: Historical Fiction/Horror

Number of Pages: 198

Rating: B

Recommended?: Yes


TW: Rape, Incest, Torture, Suicide, Pedophilia

Holy shit, I figured this book was going to be dark but it was about a thousand times more gruesome than I had expected. The Daylight Gate is not for the faint of heart, and among the rape, child abuse, torture, and nonstop violence there is also a profound sense of amorality and hopelessness. Basically no one in this book is good, and things immediately spiral deeper and deeper into depravity until there’s no way out for anyone. Well, on that happy note, I actually thought this book was pretty good. It’s set during a series of witch-hunts in 1612, where King James 1st wants witches and Catholics alike hunted down like dogs and slaughtered.


A wealthy woman named Alice Nutter is letting a dirt-poor rabble of people live in a building on her grounds, and even though the people she is harboring are accused of being witches and she’s considered an accomplice she is oddly determined to keep what is essentially a filthy, ignorant, and incestuous family safe from the authorities. Then Alice’s ex-lover Christopher shows up, a former Jesuit priest who was in on the plot to kill Guy Fawkes and has since been subjected to days of torture and mutilation as punishment for his crimes. He and Alice want to run away together to a place they’ll be safe from their pursuers, but Alice is also bound to one of the witches, and considers it her duty to save the lives of the people she feels responsible for.


As I said, this novel’s characters are largely devoid of any redeeming qualities, but I had a sort of grudging respect for Christopher and Alice because of their astonishing level of loyalty. At first I thought this book was going to be more along the lines of blameless women being falsely accused of witchcraft and subsequently victimized, so I was surprised that a lot of the characters who were being singled out actually were practicing witchcraft and worshipping Satan and furthermore, many of them came off as legitimately repulsive.


As horrible as the group of Satanists were (particularly in what they allow to be done to one little girl,) the sheer level of atrocity that’s perpetrated upon them makes the officials who brutalize them still stand out as the real monsters. Keep in mind that this book actually has strong elements of horror, there are demons, sentient body parts, and an orgy with Satan. I didn’t know that when I started reading but it didn’t matter (I really like horror,) but it might not be other people’s cup of tea. As for me, I appreciate how eclectic Jeanette Winterson is and I’ll definitely be seeking out more of her work.

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