THE HILL IS A PLACE WHERE THE LIV­ING AND THE DEAD MEET

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Kirsten Tran­ter’s

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.

Witches

De­tail from

(1508), a wood­cut by Hans Bal­dung Griens

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