A Richly Detailed Historical Novel: Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

21 Jul

Since my mother’s ancestors date back to John Alden, a crew member on the historic 1620 Mayflower voyage, I’ve always been fascinated, as a Mayflower descendant, by the history of the Pilgrims as well as with their customs and lifestyle. Therefore, when I came across Chris Bohjalian’s enthralling new historical novel Hour of the Witch, I was inspired to read it, because of my proud New England roots and my penchant for Puritan history.

Set in 17th century early Boston, Bohjalian’s engrossing new novel focuses on the Puritans as they establish themselves in the new world and develop a strict set of values, beliefs, and laws. Mary Deerfield is a young and feisty Puritan woman who has married Thomas, an older man, who is not only an alcoholic, but is physically and verbally abusive. Unfortunately, she has not been able to bear him any children, so he berates her for failing as a wife.

Mary is faithful and resourceful but fears the demons that plague her soul. So, she plots her escape from a violent and unfortunate marriage. During a drunken rage, however, Thomas drives a three-tined fork, a symbol of the devil, into the back of her hand. She then resolves that she must divorce Thomas to save her life. During this time, however, divorce is highly uncommon and only raises suspicion by her neighbors and the townsfolk that she is probably an unfit wife with a tainted soul.

Naturally, her petition for a divorce is not granted and she is forced to continue with her unhappy marriage to a cruel and violent man. As she attempts to come to terms with this defeat, their jealous servant girl, with eyes for Thomas, accuses Mary of witchcraft, when she discovers a three-tined fork and a pestle, engraved with the wicked fork, in Mary’s apron. Now Mary must endure a harrowing trial, reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, where she must defend herself and her very character. She must now not only fight to escape her marriage, but also the gallows.

Bohjalian’s twisting and tightly plotted story is filled with a riveting cast of characters and richly detailed history about the early Puritans. The dark and sinister second half of the book kept me spellbound and rooting for Mary’s vindication and freedom. She is truly an intelligent, well rounded, and respectable woman ahead of her times and readers will identify with her and sympathize with her plight. The story’s surprise ending, certainly caught me off guard, and gave me a great deal of satisfaction.

You can borrow it in print from BCCLS libraries or as an ebook from elibraryNJ or eBCCLS as an ebook.

Written by:
Ethan Galvin
Reference Librarian

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