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About the book:

In March 1895 Bridget Cleary was ill with a cold. Her husband Michael and a number of neighbours and relatives became convinced that she was a fairy changeling and tortured her to death. This grisly true story forms the basis of Angela Bourke's outstanding narrative in which the whole context of this "crime" and its punishment is sparely and powerfully laid out. Bourke's style, judgement and eye for detail are superb; there are scenes on this book of quite appalling vividness--in particular the chapters concerned with poor Bridget's end. The closed room, the men yelling questions at her, trying to force her to eat herbs soaked in milk (if she could eat then them then she might be the real Bridget and not the changeling), manhandling her; "lifting her body and winding it backwards and forwards, yelling 'away with you; come home, Bridget, in the name of God!' while slapping her." On 14 March, they held her over the fire to drive the spirits out, and on 15 March Bridget's husband set fire to her nightgown, throwing on lamp-oil to make the fire burn more fiercely. "She's not my wife", he told the assembled people. "You'll soon see her go up the chimney".

This is a chilling story, one that stays with you creepily long after you have finished reading. Like Arthur Miller's The Crucible it seems to open itself to a wide variety of interpretation, and Bourke's balancing of old-world superstitious Ireland against the new rational nation about to be born is expert. These events may be a hundred years old, but they come over as frighteningly contemporary. --Adam Roberts

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