Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

Hour of the Witch, the newest offering from New England author Chris Bohjalian, takes the reader to Salem, Massachusetts, in the decades before the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Mary Deerfield, a young Puritan woman, attempts to sue her abusive husband for a divorce, and the scrutiny brought by the divorce case leads to her arrest and trial as a suspected witch.

While the divorce storyline puts a new twist on the usual witch trial story, I was ultimately unsatisfied with the novel. I was never able to believe in Mary Deerfield as a Puritan woman of the 1660s. While Bohjalian spends a considerable amount of ink expounding upon the philosophy of the Puritans, the reader gets the impression that Mary has never bought into the Calvinist worldview. In fact, she seems more like a modern rational humanist who has time-traveled back to the 17th century and is not happy about it.

This is not a problem unique to this novel or novelist, and a good foundation of historical detail can make up for a lot of character shortcomings. But only the very best historical fiction can boast characters who feel completely true to their time, and Hour of the Witch does not live up to that standard.

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC BOHJALIAN)

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