The Witch in the Well – a review by Jeanette Greaves

Thank you to Transworld for the review copy of this book.

Getting a review copy of a book usually leads to an interesting experience, because they’re usually by an author I’ve not yet read. This was definitely an interesting experience. A copy editing error and a confusing turn of phrase early on in the book put me in a negative mood early on, but I persevered out of curiosity. The author has created three intensely unsympathetic female characters and divided the story between their voices, using flashbacks and present day narratives.

The Witch in the Well is Ilsbeth, the long dead young wife of a local landowner, who was murdered by the townsfolk in the nineteenth century, accused of killing several local children. Her life story is wreaking havoc between two former childhood friends.
Cathy is a local, she grew up near the well, and has an affinity with Ilsbeth’s tale. As an awkward, unsocial woman who sees herself as an outsider, she is sure that Ilsbeth was wrongly accused. Cathy has settled down in a basement with the town archives to write a biography of Ilsbeth and hopefully clear her name.

Elena is successful writer and influencer, with links to the area. She used to spend her summers with her uncle in his big house near the well. During those summers, she developed a friendship with Cathy that didn’t survive their childhood. When Elena returns to the town, she brings with her the need to produce that difficult second book, and is inspired to write about Ilsbeth. Inevitably, the shared goals lead to trouble, and none of the three women come out of it looking good.

I’m left with the utmost admiration for a writer who has created such self absorbed, unlikeable characters, and drawn me into their story to the extent that I returned to it every chance I got. I liked the different narrative origins – Ilsbeth has left a handwritten journal to be found by Cathy, Elena has hand written a journal and hidden it in a tree, where is it found by Cathy, and Cathy has written her side of the story as a public Facebook blog, which in itself forms a strand of the story.

If you don’t need a heroine or a sympathetic character to enjoy a book, then this may be for you. At times it reads like a black comedy, as Cathy persists in blogging every detail of her life, despite the pleadings of her lawyer, her ex husband, and her son. I’m glad I read it, it will haunt me for a while.

‘The Witch in the Well’ is available now in hardback from Bantam Press, and will be released as a paperback on 23rd February 2023.

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