Review

Corrag

by Susan Fletcher

History's timeline marks Jacobite uprisings as coinciding with the peak of Scotland's witch hunts in the 1600s, two subjects that are joined here. The historical mystery CORRAG centers on a witch accused of dozens of murders in an act that wiped out a large number of the MacDonald Clan of the Highlands. The intrigue and politics surrounding the Massacre of Glencoe make for an interesting and poignant read, and audiences will discover in the heroine Corrag a woman who has played a key role in the folklore of the Highlands.

While exploring Scotland's bogs and byrnes, Susan Fletcher ties her heroine to noble deeds amid violent acts that occurred one night in Glencoe. Entire families --- men, women and children --- were slaughtered in cold blood by men who turned on them unexpectedly after accepting their hospitality. The reasons behind this unfold in a poetic and tragic story that reads a little like a ballad might. The importance of these truths will stun audiences, who will feel keenly the injustices of these innocents who were murdered and any who have ever been accused of witchcraft.

Branded a "witch" since the day she was born, Corrag knows it's all too easy for common folks to mistrust her. To be different and not to be God-fearing are attributes that are unforgivable. Corrag relates her story in her own voice, recounting her life and the sadness surrounding the murders. Revealing truths slowly and at the right times, she sheds light on Scotland's twisted politics, how this ties in with England and Ireland, and how such events have shaped her life. She speaks of violent skirmishes and personal sentiments, of stratifications between Highlanders and Lowlanders, of stories of her faith in all earthly things. Her healing abilities are a gift for which some have condemned her, and Corrag tells of rogues and raiders, and the few who have ever been kind to her.

Corrag's Scotland is a hateful, dangerous place of wanton religious zealotry and disguised politics. There are many who work behind the scenes, scheming, Irish, English and Scottish-born. Men ally, changing futures and altering fealties. Jacobites are now the enemies of the King of England. Kings mean nothing to Corrag; the sole-surviving member of her family, her ancestors were wiped out by accusations of witchcraft. She has lived her life freely and well enough, away from most people, narrowly escaping death alongside her mother only to face it now as a grown woman, with more pain ahead than even her mother endured but also more love and forgiveness.

In prison, Corrag's first hours awaiting trial by burning are spent distressing over fears of pain, flames and finality, of life meaning something. She waits agonized until the day a Jacobite disguised as a preacher travels to Inverrigan and visits her, seeing her as deserving a terrible death but hoping somehow to gain insights on the massacre. Interspersed with Corrag's stories, Mr. Leslie writes letters to his wife, revealing (in Bram Stoker fashion) personal sentiments and his changing heart. Readers will greatly enjoy these sentiments as well as Corrag's --- and all the wonderful writing throughout the story.

The tale reveals shocking truths about the culprits of the murders that venerate Corrag touchingly. She is presented as a selfless individual, undeserving of the treatment she's received. Readers cannot but help feel the irony and hatefulness in the minds of her accusers, and audiences will feel her pain and distress keenly. This is an affecting tale, and I've never read any more significant story on witchcraft or Scottish history.

In Fletcher's afterword, she reveals how history now sees the Massacre of Glencoe and the preserved persona of Corrag's legend. Witches were tried and burned for ridiculous accusations like these until 1735, when Britain's Witchcraft Act was established. Fletcher reports over 100,000 women as having been accused of witchcraft, enduring tortures and terrible ends due to preposterous claims. Few history books will move you as much as this one. I feel comfortable recommending it to anyone and feel it bears reading and rereading. It's certainly worth remembering.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on January 12, 2011

Corrag
by Susan Fletcher

  • Publication Date: November 15, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 366 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 0393080005
  • ISBN-13: 9780393080001