Thursday, April 30, 2015

The House Where It Happened by Martina Devlin

This book has become one of my all time favourites because it's fantastically well written and a wonderful page turner but it also includes many of my favourite elements; witches, mystery, ghosts, history it's all here. It's set in 1711 and based on the real events surrounding Ireland's only mass witch trial. Just as the belief in witchcraft is beginning to fade, in a quiet corner of Ulster where superstitions and fear took root easily a young woman, a newcomer but a member of a respected local family begins to accuse one woman after another of torturing her through the power of witchcraft.
The author has fictionalised the events though the narrative remains essentially true to the actual accounts of the incident. The story is narrated by Ellen the 18 year old maid at Knowehead House where Mary Dunbar was a guest when she began to make her claims of being attacked by witches. As the community begins to fall under Mary's spell, Ellen is not entirely convinced however she cannot ignore the strange and brooding atmosphere at Knowehead and she is certain that the house is haunted. This is the story of two very different young women; one pampered and indulged, the other hard working and forced to grow up quickly. It's a story of class politics, religious fervour and how the echo of past wrong can reverberate through a community. Whether like me you are interested in the history of witchcraft or you simply enjoy a rattling good yarn then I highly recommend this book. The writing is wonderful, following the Ulster Scots dialect gives it an authenticity but it is not difficult to read. Placing Ellen at the centre of the story is a genius move as it means like her we watch the entire drama unfold. One of the best books of 2014.

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