Hex by Jenni Fagan
Published by Polygon, 2022
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Set on the eve of a young woman’s execution in 16th century Scotland, this is a look at how fear and hearsay were used as tools of oppression.
The narrative primarily focusses on Geillis as she reflects on her short life, recounting how and why she came to be accused of witchcraft and sentenced to hang for it. There is, however, a thread of magical realism that runs throughout, which sees Iris, a woman from the present day, seemingly travelling through time and space to comfort Geillis in her prison cell on her final night, before transforming into a crow so she can watch over her.
Thematically, this connection between two women across the years is used to comment on the fact that, while witch trials are a thing of the past, misogyny and abuses of power are still very much alive. While this resonates, and I remained intrigued at the time, on reflection I find it a little counterproductive. While Geillis is poignantly stoic in her declaration of innocence, determined to denounce the men who have unjustly wronged her, Iris’s role within the story suggests that magic and witches are in fact real, somewhat undermining the book’s commentary on the harm of lies and corruption.
Aside from feeling a little too on-the-nose at times, the book is nonetheless well written, and it manages to get you invested in its characters and pack an emotional punch despite its relatively short length.