THE HILL IS A PLACE WHERE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD MEET
of the imagination is more strongly evoked in this story, with more poetic conviction, than any actual magical or diabolical power.
The truly horrific aspects of the novel lie not in the grotesque images of severed talking heads or even the disturbing visits from ‘‘ the Dark Gentleman’’, but in Winterson’s spare descriptions of cruelty exercised by people with power over those with less. Human agency, not supernatural power, is the nightmarish thing: the torturer’s precision as he flays a man’s thigh, or the paedophile who is pleased to discover that the girl he has been paying to abuse is in fact his daughter and will now be his for free.
Alice doesn’t believe in God or the devil. She does, however, believe in love, and her steadfast love for two characters, a man and a woman, both persecuted by the law, determines the shape her story takes. This is Winterson world, and it’s a form of love that hurts as much as it heals, like Alice’s beloved falcon: ‘‘ He scarred her arm where she had no glove but she did not care because she loved him and she knew that love leaves a wound that leaves a scar.’’ Conditioned by loss and sacrifice, it’s still a redemptive force equal to any magic.
(1508), a woodcut by Hans Baldung Griens