TITLE/AUTHOR: Hour of the Witch; Chris Bohjalian
YEAR PUBLISHED: 2021
GENRE: Fiction / Historical
FORMAT: eGalley LENGTH: 416 pp.
SETTING(s): 1662 Massachusetts
ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY: A young woman risks everything, including her life, in 1662 Massachusetts when she decides to divorce her abusive husband.
BRIEF REVIEW: Having grown up in Massachusetts where tales of witchcraft were plentiful, Hour of the Witch, felt very different. At the heart of the novel is Mary Deerfield, the 24 year old daughter of well-to-do Puritan parents and wife toThomas Deerfield, a widower twice her age. The couple has been married for five years and Mary has not been able to conceive. Thomas is a mean and physically, verbally and sexually abusive spouse and, Mary has the bruises to prove it which she has tried repeatedly to cover up. The worst of the abuse comes when Thomas has been out drinking. One night he drives a 3-tined fork through her hand breaking her bones. Mary is determined to flee her five-year marriage by filing for divorce and heading back to the home to her parents.
The cards seemed stacked against Mary once testimony from witnesses is heard and evidence associated with witchcraft is introduced and used against her at a trial.
I loved the story and I especially loved Mary's character - a strong woman who was not afraid to take a stand and speak out against her prominent husband despite the risks and possible consequences of doing so at that time in history. The author did his homework and the story felt rich in period and historical detail but, I did have issues while reading this. The story itself was excellent but, I almost gave up early on because of the constant use of the Old English over and over again --- "Thy thou didst leave?" "Hast thou pondered?" "Doust thou sayest?" This really annoyed me and as a result the book took me much longer to read as once I put it down I was less enthused about picking it up again. I am glad I persisted, the payoff was worth it.
This would be a good book to discuss for book groups - the silencing of non-conforming women, public shaming, spousal abuse etc. I do recommend this book if you are not bothered by the writing style.