Anyone who knows me will know I have a weakness and resonance for witchy stories and Wilde by Childrens Laureate of Wales Eloise Williams is incredible, magical and reaches into my witchy heart and won’t let go.
A tale of belonging, of yearning, of unfurling and blossoming in the unforgiving heat of summer, judging minds and unkind thoughts wrapped up in a tale so old it has passed into legend.
A perfect book to celebrate amongst the folklore of May Day, but also one that will inspire and lift the hearts of those who feel different.
Wilde doesn’t fit in anywhere, kicked out of school, her scientist father abroad researching in Ivy League labs, she has no where to go but her aunts’ house in Witch Point, Wales.
But that is the last place on Earth Wilde wants to go… because that is where her late mother was from, and the whispers and rumours about her mother haunt Wilde as much as the birds that follow her do.
In the sweltering heatwave, Wilde has to contend with the politics of primary school alongside revelations about herself as the play about a local witch legend and the backlash against her seem to trip over into reality.
Wilde is an amazing character, if I was Littlefae’s age reading this I would be dreaming, wishing, playing and writing stories about being like Wilde with her dreams, her emerging gifts and oh everything.
Her self doubt and fear of all the things inside herself permeate the text, her fears of what her differences mean as awful things are natural fears for a child of that age.
So much of this age is wrapped up in seeking acceptance by conforming, and that somehow compliance and behaving in one accepted manner confirms the worth or the validity of those choices and thus your own self. Whereas most adults come to learn it is indeed our differences that make us ‘special’ and mourn the interests, collections and values we rounded off our edges to ‘fit in’ even if we were square pegs in round holes the whole time and indeed round pegs sometimes desperately wish to be square.
Eloise Williams neatly turns this on its head across the course of the novel as we find that Wilde cannot contain her differences, and neither should she, and neither should the other children, that there is beauty and validity in difference, even the smallest ones.
The other side of this book is the very real way that persecution whips up a frenzy as the children of Wilde’s class become frightened and incensed by the fact that one among them is writing ‘curse’ letters revealing either secrets or saying nasty things about them. The discontent spills over into a modern witch-hunt for the culprit and turns increasingly nasty under the helm of Jemima who is particularly ruffled by being rather deliberately left out of the play by the narcissistic drama leader Gwyneth (whose conduct underlines why teachers should not leave their class unattended with visitors).
It’s a clever parallel with the history of ‘witch’ persecution but also speaks volumes to the Reader of how humanity retains the same frenzy and fervour and how gossip, prejudice and discrimination is so easily whipped up. Indeed this is explores further in the origin story of the witch called Winter and how it’s the ‘winners’ that get to control the story.
The Shakespearean references throughout particularly of the plays with magical reference gives this a bittersweet, earthy and lyrical tone as Wilde tries to connect with a glimpse of her mother whose battered but beloved annotated collection of Shakespeare’s works she has inherited. The idea of Wilde stretching back hundreds of years in time to explore the words and ideas her mother relished only a decade or so ago is profound but utterly heartbreaking.
However, Eloise Williams has this gift for touching the dark with a gentle hand, the way she dealt with childhood fear and mental health in Seaglass has stayed with me, and here grief, fear, and a strange raw pride are explored as Wilde uncovers the hidden and repressed parts of herself as the magic within her can no longer be contained, and bursts forth like birdsong from her bruised heart.
It’s incredibly beautiful, and magical in a wonderfully earthy way.
Wilde is a book that will be treasured, no doubt will be reread and reread and one I hope that my girls will love as much as I do.
And not simply because it is gloriously magical and witchy but because it has a journey of the heart that I wish I had the signposts for when I was their age; I feel like Wilde would be a signpost, if not the map, to self empowerment and self belief for many children.
Wilde by Eloise Williams is published by Firefly.
The most deep and profound thanks to Firefly for my copy 💜