In the poet’s first novel, a richly textured account of the Essex witch trials, the persecuted women are brought vividly to life
“There’s men, and then there’s people.” So remarks one jaded widow to another, a little way into The Manningtree Witches. The two are merely gossiping, but the aside is slyly placed, for the man who afterwards happens into view will more than prove her point. AK Blakemore’s first novel is a fictional account of the Essex witch trials, and though it brims with language of arresting loveliness, it speaks plainly when it must.
We meet the young Rebecca West in 1643, amid the early convulsions of the English civil war. Her mother, known as the Beldam West, is a doughty widow with a fondness for drink and confrontation. Rebecca must share her mother’s mean lodgings and taint of disrepute, but though she chafes at the narrowness of her existence, she is not without resources. “I am useful,” she says of herself. “I have taught myself to watch and listen.”