Crane Pond (novel)
(New York and London: Europa, October 2016)
1690: Massachusetts. The Sewall family are at breakfast but their jollity is interrupted when young Betty rushes off to lock herself in her ‘cupboard’ in an onset of puritanical terror and guilt.
Samuel Sewall loves his wife and children and is a pillar of the Boston community. But suddenly a gap appears in the hedge that protects his city on a hill, letting evil find its way in. Crane Pond is the story of a man battling against the forces of darkness that threaten his own family and overtake his community, only to find that he himself embodies those forces by participating in one of the greatest miscarriages of justice ever to take place in America. The ultimate confrontation takes place in his soul.
A little over ten years ago I wrote a biography of Samuel Sewall, a judge at the Salem witch trials – the one who, five years after the terrible events of 1992, said sorry. I thought at the time that I had done his extraordinary story as much justice as I could. But I have come to feel that there is another angle to this material. Looking at the tragedy from the safe distance of three hundred years insulates both writer and reader from the very phenomenon those involved in the crisis were battling with: that of possession. Only fiction allows you to invade – and be invaded by – those people from the past, and so I have returned to the drama to experience it as they did, from the inside.
Crane Pond has been longlisted for the 2017 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
‘I’ve loved diving deep into the fascinating world of this book. Richard Francis manages to make us feel its dailiness and its strangeness both at once. Sewall’s gathering unease, as he realises he’s made his terrible mistake, is so brilliantly embodied in all the thick, foody, fleshly, weather-ridden detail of his ordinary life.’
‘Humanity and originality are the trademarks of this brilliant, clear-sighted writer, apparent once again in his bold reinvention of Samuel Sewall and the Salem Witch Trials”
‘Francis’ measured narration allows the suffering, piety, and tragic delusion of events to emerge with clarity.’
Historical fiction written with integrity and skill, from an author who knows how to deploy his background knowledge to get inside his subject’s skin. I like it that he meets his people on their own ground, instead of regarding them as aliens inspected through the wrong end of a telescope. He trusts the reader to come to an evaluation, without coercive prompting, and allows the sense of a wider community to arrive on the page without the need for a huge freight of information. I think readers appreciate this – being treated as if they have a critical intelligence to bring to the enterprise.
It’s also a warm and witty novel, defying clichéd expectations of its material. It gives a complete world-picture, offers the reader an alternative place to go and live for a time, and a new language to speak.
In short, it goes straight on to my (small) list of historical novels that draw out the capacities of the form and allow readers to brush against the pleasures and terrors of the past.