book review, historical fiction

Review: The Highland Witch by Susan Fletcher

The Highland Witch (entitled Corrag or Witch’s Light in some countries) by Susan Fletcher is based on the events of the 1692 Glencoe Massacre of Clan MacDonald, told from the perspective of a outsider named Corrag. The massacre occured after the MacDonald Clan swore their oath (albeit by a forced hand) to King William “too late,” subsequently solidifying the Jacobite cause in Scotland for years to come. Corrag’s tale is framed in that the story begins with her in jail awaiting execution while she tells her story to Charles Leslie, who in reality published the story of the Glencoe Massacre.

Originally from England, Corrag races north to Scotland at the request of her mother who is about to be hanged for witchcraft. By association, Corrag herself is viewed as a witch given her knowledge of herbs, healing, and her sensitive focus toward the natural world. Corrag’s grey mare takes her north, and the bond she shares with the animal (and the many she meets thereafter) is deep and heartbreaking. In fact, this entire novel is heartbreaking. Susan Fletcher’s writing style and her description of very specific details otherwise overlooked are astoundingly original and heartwrenching.

I wasn’t expecting this novel, but in a good way. Fletcher’s style and prose are unlike anything I’ve ever read–so much so that this novel brought actual tears to my eyes TWICE. Yes, I’ve read a lot of well done and beautiful books, but very rarely have I actually shed tears. I would love to adapt this book into a screenplay, as I saw it playing out like a thought Jane Campion film.

The way Corrag tells her tale to Charles Leslie is through heart and feeling, and by extension these are the same ways in which the reader can feel so deeply her apprpeciation of the small beauties in life, her unrequited love, and her peace in loneliness.

Whether Corrag was a real historical figure or not, we may never know. Scottish folklore tells of a Highland witch named Corrag who tried to warn the MacDonald Clan about the impending British attack, but many did not believe her and were killed.