Carmilla Reads

My name is Carmilla Voiez and I am a book addict. I write, mostly horror and urban fantasy, and I read across a wide spectrum of genres.

For those who enjoy dark humour

Horrific Sufferings of the Mind-Reading Monster Hercules Barefoot: His Wonderful Love and His Terrible Hatred - Veronica Breitten-Austin, Veronica Britten-Austin, Carl-Johan Vallgren, Paul Britten Austin

Hercules Barefoot was born in 1813 on the same night and in the same house (of ill-repute) as the love of his life, Henriette. Neither have blessed existences, although Henriette’s mother at least survives childbirth, but they become inseparable.


It’s a story about love, overcoming disability, prejudice and sadism. Some passages can be incredibly slow, almost intricate in detail, as they build to a climatic scene which seems to be over before it begins. Although it contains horror, those scenes are hurried past. It is the love scenes and displays of personal courage that are central to the narrative.


Horror lovers are likely to be frustrated by the way the writer almost skips the violent scenes, and romance lovers are likely to struggle with the very dark nature of the story. It is perhaps the dark humour that is the book’s most endearing feature and it is that aspect that I enjoyed most of all. A frequently funny, although often heart-breaking alternative history of Europe and America.

Quietly terrifying psychological horror

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson
Although this book was first published in 1962, the idea of two young women protecting each other to the extent of letting others die to sustain their close relationship is universally and endurably chilling in a world where we are encouraged to believe that women (and especially sisters) should be constantly in competition with each other.
It is considered a masterpiece and with its quiet and subtle narration, the introverted and defensive family in their “castle” and the suspicious and hateful villagers, lacking only in pitchforks, it is a powerful and richly layered read. Truths are gradually revealed that allow the reader to make sense of what initially appears strange and senseless. The fears shown in the book reflect Jackson's own fears and it seems all the more potent because of this. 

Rosie Real Rules!

Rose Madder - Stephen King

It is not uncommon for Stephen King to write about men with extreme anger issues. If a female author were to write a character like Norman she would be called a man-hating harpy. He is a caricature, even in the chapters written from his perspective, his thoughts consist entirely of hate and rage. Norman is a misogynist, a racist, and a wife-beating sack of shit, and he's a cop.


After fourteen terrifying years Rosie leaves him. She leaves him because a drop of blood on a sheet grabs her imagination and won't let her fall back to sleep. And when she leaves she is amazing. She runs even though she knows he won't give up until he finds her. She trusts and she loves and she starts to believe in herself again. Rosie is probably my favourite of King's characters, while Norman is my least favourite.


Part thriller and part dark fantasy strangeness, it is a story about not simply surviving abuse but transcending it.

Funny memoir but some shitty politics

How to Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran is funny. I thoroughly enjoyed the parts of the book that were memoir and some of the parts that purported to be (all encompassing) objective notes on what women struggle with/care about/find most important did resonate with me, although many more were contrary to my personal experiences. If I were to have read the book simply as an amusing memoir I would have given it more than three stars.


However it was marketed as a feminist text, and perhaps if white feminism is your thing and Lady Gaga is your idol then this might be a plausible entry point for considering feminism. At seventeen I might have gotten more from it, and I did pass it onto my daughter for her thoughts. For me it failed as a feminist text - it includes casual racism, transphobic slurs, ableism and generalises on ideas that I do not believe are generally held or experienced.


There were times when I thought she made intelligent points contrary to popular wisdom and argued them well. Far too often though sweeping statements were disguised beneath comedy and this is where the more offensive arguments and language often came to light. I didn't hate it, if I did I wouldn't have shared it with my daughter. I found parts of it refreshing and fun. But I probably disagreed with 50% of what she said and found 10% actually quite offensive and upsetting. In short - great memoir, crap politics.

Great for a giggle

A Book for Her - Bridget Christie

I read this soon after watching her stand-up and a lot of the same jokes are repeated, but it is funny and she is endearing. It certainly helped lift my mood while suffering from flu. It's a book about farts, pens and feminism - come on what more could you want? It probably has that too.

Great collection of Scottish and International horror

Book of the Dead: A Horror Anthology - Jan-Andrew Henderson, Anita Sullivan, Catherine Macpahail

This was a thoroughly enjoyable collection of short stories published by City of the Dead Tours. Many of the stories contain very dark humour and are all the stronger for this. I have added some of the writers' names to my watch list.


"Bunny Wunny Woo" was funny; "Lambent Lights" was a clever cautionary tale; "Mr Quibbly's Brain Emporium" was delightfully weird; "The Tunnel" was a satisfying short; "What's the Story Morning Star Glory?" was exciting and fun; "There's Something Wrong With the Baby" was chilling and one of my favourites in the collection. I'll be looking out for more from Samantha MacLaren. "The Tenant" was my favourite. I was blown away by the cleverness and originality of this story by Anita Sullivan about a tenement that somehow erases tenants and people's recollection of them. "Reverend Pea Pod and the Bloated Corpse" is brilliantly funny; "Skinner's Box" was very clever with a great twist in the tale; "Green Ladies" was a sweet, slightly creepy tale, set in a location I am familiar with and wrote my own short story about - Duff House in Scotland. Finally "The Plodder" was a satisfying short story that enchanted me. There are fourteen tales in total and none of them are badly written.


In summary, a delightful collection of short horror and one to check out.

Possibly more challenging than enjoyable a read

The Turn of the Screw - Henry James

Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" follows a popular convention in classic horror that the story is presented to us with a wrap around narration. At a party people are encouraged to tell each other creepy tales and this one is told to them (and us) by the recipient of correspondence from the governess who is tasked to take care of the children at the centre of this tale. He reads her letters to his audience.


In the novella James uses syntax and grammar to show the growing terror, fear and unreliability of the governess and she becomes either more aware of (or if it's her imagination) more afraid of the ghosts of previous domestic servants and their relationships with the children in her care. It makes us question commonly held assumptions such as beauty = goodness as she learns more about the characters of the exquisite young children.


The kids are manipulative, their legal guardian is lazy and uncaring, there may be ghosts in the old house, the children may have been molested by the two servants when they were alive and employed there, certainly the servants behaved in ways not considered fitting of people of their rank or station. The governess gradually loses her grip on reality and the children seem increasingly devilish.


What actually happens? There are plenty of theories and the story is open to interpretation.

Is it frightening? Not by modern horror standards but it's slightly creepy.

Is it confusing? Hell yes.

To be read more than once

The End of Mr. Y - Scarlett Thomas

I read the paperback version of this book (first in 2013 and again in 2019). I have never read a book where so much care was taken in its presentation. The edition I read had a deeper coloured cover. The edges of the pages were blackened and the paper scented in a way which promised arcane knowledge. Reading it was a multi-sensory experience.

The story itself is wonderful. I read a few other reviews before I started and some readers have complained that it's too distant a narrative, that they feel separate from the story. A lot of this is probably because of the overuse of passive tense, I think, but as you read more and more this style feels right in the context of both characterisation and story. The main character is also distant from the world. She feels separate and only really exists in the intellectual plane. I suspect she's on the autism spectrum, brilliant mind, struggles with the real world. It spoke to me. As I read the book I felt closer to Ariel and saw aspects of myself in her. 

The book mixes fantasy with quantum physics and philosophy. I would suggest that it could be a female version of the classic "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". If struggling to understand new concepts doesn't put you off reading fiction, I would highly recommend this book. I finished it with new understanding.

I have recently finished reading this book a second time. I got more from the second reading than the first and understood that as well as a piece of fiction the story is a thought experiment of the type Ariel is studying for her phd. Ariel remains (on 2nd reading) a wonderfully relate-able protagonist. She has been damaged by her childhood, is often self-destructive and is uniquely intelligent. She seeks answers. Like "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", "Mr Y" is part narrative part philosophical musings.

An attack on Liberalism?

The Cabin at the End of the World - Paul Tremblay

A family of city-dwellers retreat to a remote location for a holiday. The remoteness of the location is vital for the story to work. A group of four strangers, carrying homemade pitchforks, descend on the holiday makers and attempt to convince them that they must willingly sacrifice one of the family in order to save the world.


The story could be a metaphor for liberalism and the difficult choices it manages to sidestep. Or it could be representative of the insanity of expecting individuals and their choices as consumers to be the best way to avoid global ecological disaster. Certainly one of the book’s strengths is that it encapsulates the issues of our time, the homophobia, the racism, the power of the internet to embolden conspiracy theorists into action, and the vulnerability inherent in separating oneself from other people – even if only for a short holiday.


In fact there are a lot of things that work really well in this book. Tremblay offers up a cocktail of confusion: the desire to convince others of our own world view and a refusal to change our views in light of evidence and logic. Both the holiday makers and the home invaders face similar frustration and fear. Both make tenuous connections to reinforce their beliefs – is one of the invaders a man who previously attacked Andrew? Is the ongoing bird flu epidemic proof of the end of the world? Both sides do this and neither are completely successful in convincing others. But the desire to justify and prove our beliefs is something that is inherently human and in our modern times dense with competing information, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. For me this was the true horror of The Cabin at the End of the World. The confusion and the absence of an identifiable objective truth.


Scenes of visceral violence will satisfy the avid horror reader and suitably shock other readers. The violence is the only thing that has solidity and permanence. It’s what the characters and readers will take with them at the end.


While the central story is original and fascinating it is also repetitive and never reaches a satisfying conclusion. The points of view shift between characters like vomit on a waltzer. Flashbacks are frequently unsuccessful and read like unnecessary exposition present purely to increase word count. And the end feels like a cop out. There is no end!




If novellas and short stories were as popular as novels The Cabin at the End of the World could have shed 20,000 words and been far more successful.


I did enjoy the book. The unconventional family, the oddball strangers and their shared humanity that grows like fungus within the cabin. The tragedies, the self-justifications, the self-doubt, the sacrifices demanded and made. However bizarre the surrounding story might be, however frequently the demands are repeated and rejected – you must sacrifice one of your family – we will never sacrifice one of our family, there is the nugget of something powerful and real at the centre. I think it might be likened best to two groups head-butting each other until they both collapse concussed. It might seem the ultimate act of stupidity, but it also seems increasingly likely.

An excellent collection with three true gems.

Let the Old Dreams Die - John Ajvide Lindqvist

An excellent collection of short stories. Some - "Border", "Equinox" and "Majken" were so good that I plan to take Susan Hill's advice and read them again, slowly and methodically, to understand WHY they worked as well as they did.


I've made a start with Border, but got distracted by other books, so a full review should follow soon. In the meantime - 


Re-reading “Border” line by line is a revelation. I thought I’d share what I gained from the experience of reading ten pages in this way. It is powerful.


First the opening line -

As soon as the man appeared, Tina knew he had something to hide.

Appeared, knew, hide – these words evoke mystery, magic and suspense. Let’s look at each in turn.

Appeared – it’s a mysterious and magical verb, don’t you think? Arrived might have been a more natural choice, perhaps, but appeared, as if from nowhere, gives the story a fairy tale feel.

Knew – Tina doesn’t suspect, she knows. How does she know? Who is Tina and why does she have the power to know the man has something to hide? Who is the man? Where are they?

Hide – another word full of mystery and hints of conflict. The first line sets Tina up as protagonist and this man as antagonist. It introduces us to theme, character and suspense.


A few lines later we get this -

The man heaved a small case up onto the counter.

The juxtaposition of heaved with small opens up a myriad of questions for the reader. Why is the small case heavy? Or is the man weak or sick? Is he struggling the the weight of his guilty secret rather than the case itself?


We are now aware of the surroundings of these two characters. The are at a border control and Tina is a customs officer. As he heaves the case she presses a silent alarm, and guards gather to watch. She wonders whether the man is armed.


We still don’t have a physical description of Tina (and I wonder whether this would bother me if I hadn’t watched the film first and knew about the physical similarities between Tina and the man). We do, however, have a clear image of the man.

[A]ngular face, low forehead. Small, deep-set eyes beneath bushy eyebrows. A beard and medium-length hair. He could have played a Russian hit man in an action movie.

Hyper-masculinity with a threat of violence. A low forehead frequently represents low intelligence. He seems shadowy and villainous. Unattractive. We have a perfect portrait in under 30 words.


What Tina finds in his case is a metal box with a dial and wires. We witness the man’s calm amusement in contrast to Tina’s knowledge that he has something to hide. All of this tension has been built in less than two pages before we suddenly zoom out and are told about Tina’s wider life and job.


The following two pages show examples of Tina knowing when people are hiding things and becoming somewhat famous for her talent, in demand. It also places her firmly in the Swedish port in which this story is set.


Before we return to the villainous, shadowy man, the box, and Tina’s unshakable conviction that he’s hiding something. They search him and find nothing. The man remains calm and polite throughout. There is an odd conversation in which it is revealed that the stranger somehow understands Tina. We still don’t know they look the same, but we get the strong suggestion that these people are the same on some deep level. The beginnings of a love story seem to unfold.

“My apologies for the inconvenience.”

Tina uses a standard line as armour, hiding her interest behind a coolly professional dismissal. The man’s reaction is surprising.

“Perhaps we’ll meet again.”

Then he kisses her. His reaction is the antithesis of her professionalism.

“What the hell do you think you are doing!”

Tina’s shock makes her defensive as she tries to return to normal social interactions. The man raises his hands to show he isn’t a threat and says excuse me in German. So much has happened and we have only reached p.6. I love this way of reading. Thank you Susan Hill.


In the next scene Tina returns home. She leaves the work environment that she controls (to such an extent that the interaction with the man shocks her) and goes home to a place that is shown as unsafe and chaotic with fighting dogs that hate her and a “partner” who is shown as emotionally distant but preferable to being alone.


A flash back to her last day at school and a boy that tells her -

“I wish I could meet someone who’s exactly like you, but who doesn’t look like you.”

Flash forward to looks of revulsion on the faces of people who meet Tina for the first time. At last we have some sort of physical description for Tina. She’s so ugly that her body is her prison and she’ll accept and want the company of anyone who shows interested however ill suited.


The man – the kiss – a love story! We the readers want this!


This brings us to the end of p.10. Whatever happens after this point (I know what happens as this is my second read through) we are already invested in Tina’s happiness. Tina represents our own loneliness and pain, the unrequited loves, the rejections. She’s the monster we catch sight of in our own reflections. The fact that we still have no physical description of Tina beyond “ugly” means we can wrap ourselves in the blank canvas of her flesh and become her. Just ten pages and already I’m a lonely, ugly woman who knows when people are trying to hide. That’s powerful writing.


Heroin, Homebreaking and Rehab.

Skagboys - Irvine Welsh

Twenty years after the release of Trainspotting in 1993, Irvine Welsh wrote a prequel “Skagboys”. We are introduced to the main characters before they encounter heroin, and taken through the degradation of the working class in Scotland and elsewhere during the Thatcher years, including a poignant scene during the miner’s strike. The same degradation is reflected in the city of Edinburgh which is revealed not only as the Athens of the North, but also as the AIDS capital of Europe.


As with Welsh’s debut novel the prose is written in Scot’s vernacular that gives a warmth and depth to the story, although the way it slips away for some of the older characters suggests that the mode of expression might be contrived at times rather than natural. It is a dark and terrifying look at the psyches of young men. Women are invariably called rides (if they are sexually attractive) or not rides (if they are not). Even the most sympathetically revealed female character Alison, is shown in a very laddish way and does not in any way address the toxicity of the misogyny rampant in this group where women’s agency is exchanged for drugs on a regular basis.


It is a political novel, and looks critically at the lack of action to tackle the rising problems of AIDS, drugs and unemployment during the 1980s. It is very much a working class story and everyone who is educated and gainfully employed is seen to be naive at best and the enemy at worst.


The lads, Renton, Sick Boy and Begbie, are psychopaths – lying, cheating, stealing, manipulating, or beating people to a pulp as a way of life. There are moments of clarity in Renton’s narrative where he acknowledges how messed up he is, and how nothing about his life justifies what he becomes. Sick Boy and Begbie share no such revelations.


The prose is very effective, the story is fairly interesting, and the characters are about the same as they were in Trainspotting, although perhaps too much the same at times. There are some gorgeous paragraphs in there, particularly where the author is using Spud or Renton to share a teachable moment with the reader.


From Spud : “Too much chargin aboot: it’s killin us aw, man. The rat race n that. Stressed if yuv goat a joab, stressed if ye huvnae. Everybody oot fer themselves, at each other’s throat n daein each other doon. Nae solidarity nae mair, ken?”


From Renton: “If being Scottish is about one thing, it’s aboot gittin fucked up … Tae us intoxication isnae just a huge laugh, or even a basic human right. It’s a way ay life, a political philosophy. Rabbie Burns said it: whisky and freedom gang thegither.”


If you loved Trainspotting, like I did, you’ll enjoy this novel. If you haven’t encountered Welsh, then Trainspotting is a much better place to start than Skagboys.


Prose/description/language 4.5/5

Characterisation 3.5/5

Overall 4/5

or "People Susan Hill Has Met"

Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home - Susan Hill

There were things I really liked about this book - the journey through a house full of bookcases, where many of the books Hill owns evoke memories of when and where she read them, or meeting the authors themselves. At times it feels like a who's who, but is enjoyable in spite of that. I have ordered three books on Hill's recommendations and I look forward to reading those soon. I appreciated her thoughts on reading and rereading books to get the most from them - slow reading as a skill to be relearned has much value and appeal.


There were things I liked less - Hill can be somewhat dismissive and derisive of certain writers, politics, social movements, people, books and technology. Many of her arguments seem somewhat circular or vague, and "the authors who I have met" parts got tiresome after a while. Some of the quotes used seemed to add little to the book and the section on "Reading for the Soul" just wasn't compelling, but perhaps that's me being equally dismissive.


Published at eighteen, invited to all the right parties, and mentored by very talented people it sounds as though Susan Hill's life has been rich and full. It was fascinating to get a glimpse of that. All in all I did enjoy the book. It took me years to take it off my shelf and it was worth the wait. 3.5/5*

A look at the very first novel

The Tale of Genji - Edward G. Seidensticker, Murasaki Shikibu

The edition I read is translated by Arthur Waley and published in 2016 by Stellar Editions. It is only 183 pages and nine chapters and appears to be photocopied then printed with marks on some pages that suggest the edge of the original text. Genji is still a young man at the end of this version as opposed to the full text which takes us beyond his 40th year.


This is said to be the first novel ever written. It is the story of Genji, the illegitimate second son of the emperor. It is set in the Japanese royal court in the old capital of Kyoto in the 11th century. Genji enjoys the attentions of numerous women and, after some disastrous affairs, tries to learn some level of responsibility, a difficult task for someone who, because of his status and extraordinary beauty, almost always gets his own way and is rarely taken to task.


11th century Japanese court shares many similarities to our own celebrity culture. However, there are also many stark differences which make this a fascinating read.


The translation or the original language is often clunky and many of the characters are poorly drawn and easily confused. In spite of this it is fascinating to see early conventions in novel writing that are still used today.

An exploration of death

Exquisite Corpse - Poppy Z. Brite
This book is hardcore in terms of violence and lust. The only comparable books I have read, ones as graphic and disturbing with vivid descriptions of dismemberment, disembowelment and bodily waste would be 
Frisk, by Dennis Cooper and In the Miso Soup, by Ryu Murakami.
Exquisite Corpse is told in first and third person. The first person narrator is Andrew Compton, a British serial killer who escapes prison by faking death. How he manages this is somewhat vague, magical and shamanistic, but we expect some suspension of disbelief in fiction, and this isn't too much of a stretch.
In this way the narrative and plot reflect each other as Exquisite Corpse is an exploration of death both of the narrator's own self and of others. Not only the violent murders that follow prolonged torture, lovingly described, but also more subtle and normal deaths. Death by disease - the AIDS epidemic has badly hit the French Quarter of New Orleans, and the deaths of relationships - familial and lovers, represented by Tran, the exquisite corpse of the title.
A lot happens in the story. Yes, it is shocking and grotesque, but it is also poignant and sad. Exquisite Corpse is by far the best book by Poppy Z Brite that I have read so far.

LGBTIA Magical Realism in Early 20th century Manchester.

The Night Brother - Rosie Garland
Sometimes you are lucky enough to read exactly the right book at the right time. This was the case with "The Night Brother" and me. It was the perfect piece of fiction to read after "Caliban and the Witch". While the beautiful prose and rich characters would have been enjoyable at any time, the poignancy of the subtext was enriched when read with knowledge of the history of women's struggles.
It is set in the late 19th - early 20th century, Manchester, England. A time of suffragists and a blossoming underground queer culture, both of which were violently opposed by state and police. Set in this time, place and atmosphere is the story of Edie and Gnome. The first chapter shows them in perfect, natural harmony with each other. But as Edie grows up her intersex nature (given a gloriously magical bent by Garland) is repressed and made a cause of shame by the abuse by their mother. Without full expression and acceptance, Edie/Gnome's relationship becomes destructive and toxic. This journey of acceptance and balance is woven into a wider narrative about feminine roles in society and the struggle to transcend them.
It is a dazzling book, bleak at times, uplifting at others. It does not shy away from women's struggles or the resistance to them by reactive traditional figures. It is a lover's kiss of a book, communicating deep and hidden truths while giving intense pleasure. It is among my favourite reads of all time.
5/5 stars.

Capitalism, Class Struggle and Misogyny

Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation - Silvia Federici

Anyone who knows me knows I have an interest in both magic and women’s rights, making me the ideal audience for this historical analysis of the effects of and motivations driving the witch-hunts. I was not disappointed. This book is beautifully illustrated and a well researched and referenced account that taught me many things I had not known before and reinforced things I already knew or believed.


It places the rise of misogyny within the class struggle as a direct result of the divide and conquer rule duplicated in the colonies. While the text looks mostly at Europe it does draw comparisons with the New World and modern problems in Asia and Africa.


It’s well written and apart from the too small text, is easy to understand. It strays into academia, but even for the lay person there is plenty to enjoy. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested even slightly in sexual or class politics and/or activism.


The rest of the review will include things I learned from reading the book, so if you prefer no spoilers stop reading now.


In the 14th century, after the Black Death created a massive underpopulation problem, workers were able to demand higher wages and better working conditions than ever before. In response the ruling class in Europe took steps to crush lower class solidarity and deal with the population decline. What they did had a massive negative impact on women’s lives throughout the classes, but particularly that of working class women. It was at this time that non-productive sex, including homosexuality, was proscribed, using methods that led to levels of homophobia, which continue to this day. At the same time rape was decriminalised and state funded brothels were established. The use of contraception was banned, and more women were charged in the 16th and 17th centuries for infanticide than any other crime except witchcraft (a crime that also centred around the killing of children).


The land enclosures (privatisation of previously commonly held ground) of the 15th and 16th centuries were followed by social enclosures. In the 16th century public gatherings of workers and festivals were outlawed in a deliberate move to destroy community solidarity. Those who bemoan the lack of community in the 21st century can trace its roots back to this time.


It was believed that female midwives could not be trusted not to cover up abortions and still births and there was a shift to male doctors attending births. Midwives in France and Germany had to become spies for the state if they wanted to continue their practice. In the case of medical emergency, saving the fetus was prioritised over the life of the mother.


Women in the 16th and 17th centuries lost the right to make contracts or represent themselves in court. They were declared legal “imbeciles”. In Germany women were forbidden to live alone or with other women, even with their own families. In Italy women were expelled from the streets. Unaccompanied women risked ridicule or sexual assault. English women were discouraged from spending time with female friends. The term gossip originally meant female friend.


In the colonies, in Bacon’s Rebellion, Virginia, 1675 – 76, African slaves and British indentured servants joined together to conspire against their masters. To crush such rebellions racial hierarchies were deliberately constructed and laws were passed depriving Africans of previously granted civic rights such as citizenship, the right to bear arms, the right to make a deposition or seek redress at tribunal. A move mirroring the stripping of legal status in European women at the same time. Slavery was made a hereditary condition and slaves masters were given the right to beat and kill their slaves. Marriages between blacks and whites were forbidden.


In addition to these politically created and motivated divisions between groups of people based on gender or race the ruling classes and intelligentsia of 16th and 17th centuries also spent time and energy seeking to divide body and reason in individuals, so that man might dominate his natural instincts through will. Women, working class men and people of non-European descent were considered inferior and unable to behave according to reason. These had to be managed by the state rather than trusted to manage their own behaviour as were higher class white men.


With all this in the background – the divisions, the mistrust of nature, the population decline and the violent conquering of the New World, it is easy to see what Federici argues, that witch-hunting in Europe was an attack on women’s resistance to the spread of early capitalism, AND, a fear of the power women gained by virtue of their sexuality, their control over reproduction and their ability to heal. These women were persecuted, tortured and killed, not for “socially recognised crimes, but previously accepted practices and groups of individuals that had to be eradicated from the community by terror and criminalization.” “Their claim to magical power undermined the power of the authorities and the state, giving confidence to the poor and their ability to manipulate the natural and social environment and possibly subvert the constituted order.”


Women who used contraception, had sex outside marriage, beggars and rebellious women who argued or swore were put on trial for witchcraft. Women were stripped, all their hair shaved off, pricked all over and internally with long needles, often raped, limbs torn, seated in iron chairs with fires lit beneath, bones crushed, then once the confession was extracted publicly hung or burnt. The entire community was forced to watch the execution, including the witch’s children. Daughters were sometimes stripped and whipped in front of the stake while their mother was burning alive. Homosexual men were sometimes used as kindling for the stakes upon which witches were burned. The term faggot originates from this gruesome history. In 1604, England, James I introduced the death penalty for anyone who used spirits or magic even if they caused no visible harm. Ironically, perhaps, the one exclusion was male practitioners of High Magic, which was considered a science.


The persecution and eradication of female healers through the witch-trials allowed for the rise of professional medicine, unaffordable and inaccessible to the lower classes. Francis Bacon’s concept of the scientific investigation of nature was modelled on the interrogation of witches, portraying nature as a woman to be conquered, unveiled and raped. In this way Capitalist exploitation of the natural world and the exploitation of women can be shown to be closely linked.


The witch-hunts ended in Europe (excluding Scotland) in the early 18th century. The intelligentsia began to rewrite the history of the witch-trials as the product of Medieval superstition. As the witch-hunts died down arrests for damage to property and assault rose. In Paris in 1871 the new witch-hunt was against the petroleuses. If a woman was poorly dressed and carrying a basket, box or milk bottle that was enough for her to be suspected, and in this way hundreds of women were summarily executed while the press vilified them in the papers.


Witch-hunting continued as a tool of colonisation and globalism. Witch-trials happened in Western India in the 1840s and in the 1980s – 1990s in Kenya, Nigeria and Cameroon when the International Monetary Fund imposed a policy of structural adjustment, requiring the privatisation of commonly held land and communal resources, leading to mass impoverishment.


So yeah, the book is not comfortable reading, but for those who want to know more it is well worth getting hold of, and the wood cut prints illustrations are wonderful. 5/5 stars.


Currently reading

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman