Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow

As I rewrite this lost post I am taking a different tone to the description since I don't think my last review gave the few of you who got to read the whole thing a real sense of the playfulness of this piece of literature.

Telling the story of Jennet Stearne is a scientific treatise written in Latin, Sir Isaac Newton's "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica." As the story opens Jennet is studying science and philosophy with her beloved aunt. Her father is a noted witchfinder. Tragedy strikes when her aunt is accused of witchcraft and her father's zeal for his profession leads him to have her burned at the stake. Jennet spends the rest of her life trying to scientifically prove that demons do not exist in the rational world. Her destiny, it seems, is to end the witch trials forever. During her life she immigrates to America and interacts with a wide variety of famous personages including having a romance with no less than Ben Franklin although she always lets go of the people in her life in order to continue her quest.

The best thing about this book is that all of the events are conveyed with a slightly fantastical air to them that gives this book a slightly surreal edge.

This is one of those books that would (in the normal course of things) cause me to go out and find biographies on Newton and Franklin as well as some of the works cited during the course of the book to see where fact leaves off and supposition begins. With my current reading constraints I can't do that so I will have to rely on my memory and say that, without doing some fact checking this book seems to be quite historically accurate and even the fantastical elements have elements of truth. The author also is quite clever and plays with words in humorous and inventive ways. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it for the more adventurous among you. (Being well-read doesn't hurt either.)

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