*Note: This post contains spoilers*
I will admit, I was reluctant to read this book given that historical fiction isn’t really my cup of tea. However, given that I should broaden my horizons, I thought I would give it a fair shot. In all honesty, I’m glad that I did – not to have done would have been a grave mistake indeed.
A slow start, but it was needed for the reader to be fully immersed in that time period and gain an understanding of a woman’s role and expectations as dictated by a patriarchal society. It was striking to see how even though centuries have passed, very little has changed under the surface; women are still expected to fulfill certain ‘duties’ (e.g. get married, have children etc.) and much as we may not like to admit it, today’s age is very much rife with double standards (e.g. if a man has slept with multiple people, he generally gains a favourable reputation, yet the opposite is true of a woman with the same history, which is shown quite plainly in the derogatory labels used). ‘The Familiars’ did an incredible job of highlighting the lack of differences between the past and present in that respect.
“… I wouldn’t wish a girl’s life on anyone”
The first person narrative was intimate and gave a deep insight in to the life of a young married gentlewoman. Fleetwood was a woman very much of her time – meek, unquestioning and naïve about things that ‘should not be of concern to a woman (of luxury)’. Due to her own narrow perspective on life, as a reader, it was sometimes claustrophobic being inside her head for the whole of the story. Nonetheless, she became a strong willed character full of resolve, who refused to be bound to (some of) society’s constraints.
Nevertheless, it would have been very interesting to glean other perspectives – especially those of Alice and Jennet Device. Alice simply because she was the one of the accused, and Jennet’s because she was the main accuser – why someone would accuse their neighbours of witchcraft is somewhat understandable given the hysteria created at the time. Yet, why a child would go and accuse their own family in a heartbeat is simply beyond me – was it just for a promised new home? Could someone be that cruel and heartless but more so, incredibly naïve to believe empty promises in exchange for such a heavy price? It was amazing the way this story was able to throw up these thought provoking questions.
Another character’s perspective that would have been interesting to explore was Roger’s. Although Fleetwood made some logical assumptions, his motivations were still a little unclear, given his established position in society – was it simply a bid for power and the easiest way to get it was accusing innocent women of witchcraft, or did he actually believe and fear his own accusations, so much so that he was willing to fabricate evidence?
Arguably, perhaps Richard was the most intriguing character of the entire ensemble. Whilst all the other major characters were more black or white, Richard fell within the grey area. He didn’t exactly have bad intentions as such (unlike Roger, it’s hard to come up with a convincing case for Richard) but neither can he be completely absolved from blame despite redeeming himself towards the end. (How much he redeemed himself is questionable – although he managed to speak in Alice’s defense at the trial, he still left Judith and his illegitimate son at the end without supposedly a backwards glance).
It would have been incredibly fascinating to see how a trial would have played out if a woman of societal standing had been accused of witchcraft (i.e. Fleetwood). I realize I’m starting to digress a little and that this is not a history book that delves in to the many different scenarios and perspectives of that time – to fully sate my curiosity, perhaps I should look in to building a time machine 🙈
Throughout, vivid descriptions were stitched in, providing a real sense of the atmosphere and terror felt by the accused and non accused alike. Beautiful portrayals of the landscape and surrounding area had also been provided. The writing was straightforward and precise.
The ending did not tie up all the ends, but enough was there to provide a semblance of an ending. Through this, a sense of uncertainty was conveyed which felt realistic and was kept with the overall tone of the story.
In a nutshell, this was an amazing book that bought attention to women and their place within society. Even though a handful of centuries have passed us by, how much in this respect has actually changed for the better? It made me acknowledge that perhaps not much has changed – at least not as much as I previously thought.
P.S. I didn’t think a chiropractor would improve my posture. But I stand corrected. 😋