Corrag is the highly anticipated novel of Susan Fletcher, author of the 2007 Oystercatchers and her award winning 2005 debut Eve Green. She does not disappoint in this novel of love, prejudice, warfare, and beauty.
The background of the novel is the 1692 Glencoe Massacre in Scotland. The chief of clan MacDonald was a Jacobite, a supporter of James, as opposed to William of Orange who had ascended the English throne in 1688. After numerous Jacobite uprisings, William offered a pardon to all clans who swore an oath to him before 1 January 1692. Knowing he could not win the fight, the Laird of the MacDonalds agreed to swear allegiance, but when he arrived at Fort William, on 31 December 1691, he was informed by a Colonel Hill that he, Hill, was not authorized to accept the oath. Colonel Hill assured the clan leader that his people would not suffer for a late oath, and he provided a letter stating that the clan had arrived within the proscribed time to swear allegiance. The laird then set out for Inveraray, where he needed to go to swear the oath, arriving three days later he was forced to wait another three days for the Sheriff of Argyll, to whom he then swore allegiance. Despite Colonel Hill's assurances, the clan would pay dearly for his tardiness.
Corrag, the central character in the novel, is a woman accused of both witchcraft and treason, as she had a vision and tried to warn the MacDonald clan members, who were allowing her to live on their land, that the British soldiers whom they had been hosting as guests for two weeks were planning a massacre.
The novel definitely gives a great deal of background with regards to the history of the Glencoe Massacre, but that is certainly not the focus of the book. Chapters alternate between Corrag's voice as she tells her story to Charles Leslie, an Irish propagandist supporter of the Jacobites, and the voice of Charles as he writes letters to his wife regarding his experiences documenting Corrag's story. In the beginning, Charles views Corrag as a witch and agrees that she should burn at the stake, but as he spends time with her, she changes not only his mind but the very way he views the world around him. Author Fletcher takes on a very challenging task in her choice to tell the story through two person's viewpoints, but she pulls it off to perfection.
In a few places the story seems to bog down a bit, but there is a constant thread of tension as the reader begins to question whether Charles Leslie's growing sympathy for Corrag will result in his somehow aiding her in getting released from captivity. There is also a strong element of passion woven into the story. Corrag is in love with the second, married, son of the Laird of the Clan MacDonald, and readers will be carried along in their desire to see how that aspect of the story resolves. Evident too, is the powerful love of Charles Leslie for his bride, Jane, which shines through in his letters to her.
Susan Fletcher has an unparalleled gift for descriptive prose and uses it to create in Corrag a character for whom the reader feels great empathy. Like Charles, the reader can not fail but come away wanting to embrace the natural world, to live simply, more deliberately-Corrag made me think of Henry David Theroux. She notices every detail of life and the lives around her and embraces them for their uniqueness and beauty. I came away from this book more observant-changed, and I do not think any reader could help but do likewise. In is ironic that a book whose background is a massacre could leave one feeling so intensely alive.
I recommend this well researched work of historical fiction to anyone who is interested in historical fiction dealing with Scotland of the time period and those who love descriptive, evocative prose.