Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Conjure Woman's Cat

Lena, a shamanistic cat, and her conjure woman Eulalie live in a small town near the Apalachicola River in Florida’s lightly populated Liberty County, where longleaf pines own the world. In Eulalie’s time, women of color look after white children in the homes of white families and are respected, even loved, but distrusted and kept separated as a group. A palpable gloss, sweeter than the state’s prized tupelo honey, holds their worlds firmly apart. When that gloss fails, the Klan restores its own brand of order.

When some white boys rape and murder a black girl named Mattie near the sawmill, the police have no suspects and don’t intend to find any. Eulalie, who sees conjure as a way of helping the good Lord work His will, intends to set things right by “laying tricks.”
Goodreads description

I very much enjoyed this novella/ short novel by a fellow member of the Magic Realism Books Facebook Group, a tale narrated by the shamanistic cat herself. 

The story is set in the Florida panhandle in the 1950's in a society dominated by racism, and tackles the serious issues of white violence, rape, day-to-day prejudice and mother/daughter relationships. This is a book that packs a lot into its 166 pages. Despite this bleak subject matter the book is beautifully written, allowing this Brit a vision of a place which the author knows well and clearly loves. The contrast of the natural beauty highlights the ugliness of human behaviour.

The central human character Eulalie is extremely well-drawn. The old woman is a "conjure woman" - a traditional healer, a practiser of hoodoo, and a former jazz/blues singer. She is proudly independent, powerful in many ways, and wily, and bears the scars of a hard and unfair life. If anything, she and her magic (tricks) are too consistently strong, so that I did not doubt that she would succeed in gaining justice for Mattie, which reduced the tension in the story for me. 

I really enjoyed the insight I gained into the traditional medicine of the area. The book comes with an excellent glossary at the end. There were many herbs that I recognised from my research for my own books, but there were others that I did not. Some of the beliefs came from Africa and others from the Native American traditions. I was struck by the way Eulalie combined a deep Christian faith and knowledge of the Bible with what might be seen by some as pagan traditions. The Archangel Michael even puts in an appearance, alongside another by the Black Rider. 

A really lovely book and a pleasure to read.

NB The book uses language which, whilst appropriate to the context, may offend some people, but I believe is necessary to the book.

I received this book free from the author in return for a fair review.

1 comment:

Robin Gregory said...

Well done, Malcolm! This looks wonderful! And thank you, Zoe, for a great review!