THE WITCH IN THE WELL
Over a hundred years ago, the citizens of F- did something rather bad. And local school teacher Catherine Evans has made writing the definitive account of what happened when Ilsbeth Clark drowned in the well her life's work.
The town's people may not want their past raked up, but Catherine is determined to shine a light upon that shameful event. For Ilsbeth was an innocent, after all. She was shunned and ostracised by rumour-mongers and ill-wishers and someone has to speak up for her. And who better than Catherine, who has herself felt the sting and hurt of such whisperings?
But then a childhood friend returns to F -. Elena is a successful author whose book, The Whispers Inside: A Reawakening of the Soul, has earned her a certain celebrity. In search of a new subject, she takes an interest in the story of Ilsbeth Clark and announces her intention to write a book about the long-dead woman, focusing on the natural magic she believes she possessed.
And Elena has everything Catherine has not, like a platform and connections and no one seems to care that Elena's book will be pure speculation, tainting Ilsbeth's memory rather than preserving it. Catherine is determined that something must be done and plots to blunt her rival's pen. However she had not allowed for the fact that the past might not be so dead after all - that something is reaching out from the well, disturbing her reality.
Before summer's over, one woman will be dead, the other accused of murder . . . but is she really guilty, or are there other forces at work? And who was Ilsbeth Clark, really? An innocent? A witch? Or something else entirely?
Feminist and magic related books are popular at the moment – I read some brilliant ones in 2022, and I have another on my TBR that comes out in the same month as The Witch in the Well. Although I do sometimes struggle with historical dramas, I thought the split perspective and timelines would help keep me engaged with this one, as well as an intriguing plot that made me want to pick it up.
The Witch in the Well alternates perspective between Cathy and her childhood friend Elena who are obsessed by the local story of Ilsbeth Clark, who was accused of witchcraft and drowned in a nearby well and are rivalling each other to write a book about her. These characters are quite similar but also each unlikeable in their own way which did not help to keep me engaged in the story. Cathy is paranoid and narcissistic, thinking that everyone in the town is judging and talking about her at all times. Elena is shallow and deluded – a social media influencer who readily accepts dark forces into her mind without a second thought until she is consumed by them. There is no-one to really root for or empathise with which made it difficult to get into and I found it dragged in a lot of places.
There are also odd choices in writing style – the town that the events happen in, for example, is always referred to as ‘F-‘. I’m assuming that this is supposed to be alluding to the fact the name of the town is redacted, but I found this jarring and it took me out of the story - I would have preferred just a made-up name to be used. In Elena’s perspective, certain words are oddly capitalised – such as SOUL and WILL which made very little sense. I would have liked to have more of an understanding of what she meant by hearing her soul talking to her as this event happens before the events in the book take place.
There is a third perspective which is interesting, but I found this, added to the end reveal about what had been happening to be confusing. I didn’t understand how the words had been found to be written down – this is certainly a big plot hole! It is more of a horror story as there are some paranormal elements and I found that as I didn’t like any of the characters there were very little stakes involved for me.
Overall, The Witch in the Well did not draw me in – with unlikeable characters and odd writing choices which culminated in a confusing conclusion. Thank you to NetGalley & Random House UK, Transworld Publishers & Bantam Press for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
LINKS TO BUY