The Bonnie Road, by Suzanne d’Corsey, is a highly readable tale of modern day witches, and society’s attitude to their activities. It weaves elements of belief and the supernatural into evolving religion and ritual through the ages to offer an intriguing take on what some regard as “nefarious, unnatural activities”.
Set in St Andrews, Scotland, in 1979, the story focuses on two forty-something year old women. Morag is a witch who is just beginning to open herself to the full potential of her powers. Rosalind is a struggling widow who has left her mother and son in California to offer support to her dying uncle. She had only previously met him when she was a babe in his sister’s arms. Morag and Rosalind descend from families who have been next door neighbours for generations. Their homes form an integral backdrop to their shared history.
On arrival in St Andrews Rosalind befriends Helen, a lecturer at the university. Through her she meets the handsome Angus, an archaeologist on the brink of a significant discovery in a field outside the city. Angus is the son of a minister and has strong ideas about what is proper and how he should treat the fairer sex. Romance blossoms but Rosalind finds herself experiencing a sexual awakening which shocks them both.
Morag’s innate abilities enable her to understand what is happening to those around her, sometimes better than they understand themselves. She is keen to draw Rosalind out and encourages her to put aside her inhibitions and grasp the experiences on offer. As well as Rosalind’s awakening, Morag is dealing with the tragic consequences of a philanderer’s games, and is attempting to prevent him from damaging others with his selfish proclivities.
Alongside the bubbling witchcraft is a view of the established church, led by a cleric who is about to experience what he considers a holy enlightenment. Reverand Paterson regards Morag as evil, a threat to the stability of the society he wishes to preserve. He fondly recalls the days when such people could be thrown off a cliff or burned at the stake.
It is suggested that women played a key role in Celtic ritual, something that Christianity sought to deny them. The attitudes of the men towards the women in this tale make the ancient ways appear more appealing than they are often portrayed.
What sympathy I developed for Morag was lost in the denouement. Despite the obvious evil being dealt with I would have preferred a less direct retaliation.
I wonder how much of my aversion to drug fuelled, naked dancing and abandoning oneself to enhanced sexual urges is down to the societal conditioning which this tale explores. I am comfortable with my antipathy towards the coven’s method of retribution. I found the conclusion of Rosalind’s tale more satisfying than Morag’s.
This is a well written, unusual and compelling story that contains a fascinating level of historical detail. The mix of pagan old ways and its modern renaissance presented alongside the changing role of the church provoked reflection. Behaviours considered acceptable change over time. Not all change has been progress.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Thunderpoint.