Friday, August 28, 2009

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

63. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe

Connie Goodwin is a graduate student specializing in colonial American history. She has just been accepted as a doctoral candidate at Harvard when she accedes to her mother's request to go to Marblehead to close up her grandmother's house, a house that had been sitting empty for years. Whilst clearing out the place, she finds an old Bible which contains a key with a tag on which is the name "Deliverance Dane". Her curiosity is aroused, and she begins a search for the identity of Deliverance, and for an old book, variously called a "physick book", an "almanack", a "grimoire". Meanwhile, her thesis adviser begins to behave very oddly, and the young man she meets and becomes enamoured of is the victim of a strange accident. And she, herself, begins to develop extraordinary powers.

Howe manages to capture both contemporary academic politics and 17th-century religio-social politics and creates a fascinating story of "bewitchment". She shifts easily between scenes set in 1991 and in 1692, and thus we are aware of things that will impact Connie's story before she herself knows them (in fact, she probably never knows as much as we do).

There are some loose ends, things that remain unexplained (for example, why is it dangerous for a man to be romantically involved with a Dane descendant?). I've also seen some criticism of this book on the grounds that it negatively stereotypes librarians, but I don't see it!

Oh, there really was a Deliverance Dane. The image below is her husband's Petition for restitution for Deliverence Dane, from the Massachusetts State Archives. The University of Virginia has created an online archive of documents relating to the Salem witchcraft trials held in various special collections across New England, which makes for fascinating browsing.

1 comment:

  1. I love online archives, don't you? That's a total time sucker right there. I think British Library might have the best one.