Discover ‘A Discovery of Witches’ yourselfPublished 12:07pm Saturday, March 19, 2011
Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster
“Beware the ides of March,” my father warned me.
“To heck with the ides,” I replied. “It’s the slush that’s making me crazy.”
It was one of those days that wasn’t spring and wasn’t winter. What March in Minnesota lacks in charm, it makes up for with indecision. It was a damp, chilly holding pattern, and everyone around me looked like they were about to keel over in fits of ennui.
I wanted to voyage into the unknown, rendezvous with a mysterious stranger, so I went to where all risky behavior begins. I went Borders and bought a book. The first novel to jump into my sightline was Deborah Harkness’ “A Discovery of Witches,” and I couldn’t dismiss it as hokum fast enough.
The recent literary offerings showing Abraham Lincoln fighting vampires or zombies appearing in the tea-soaked pages of Jane Austen did nothing for me, and I was never ever going to give up a vein to that Edward in “Twilight.” For me all this monster mash amounted to nothing more than monster “meh.” Yet my eyes continued to linger on that 579-page hardcover weapon of a book about witches. Why not, I thought, if there was ever a month that could use a little magic it was March.
I relish being wrong. How sweet it is to have the world surprise you just when you think you have it all figured out. I was ready to read 10 pages of this tome and cast it aside using it only to hold down my Yorkie in a windstorm. I got past page 10 and by page 20 I was Harkness’ prisoner.
Harkness is a scholar, and at first “A Discovery of Witches” reads like an academic mystery but quickly turns into a globe-trotting adventure.
Diana Bishop is a witch with a Ph.D. in the history of alchemy and Matthew Clairmont is a vampire with a Ph.D. in everything. He’s 1,500 years old and has had time to rack up a few letters behind his name. Unlike those popular pasty-faced adolescent vampires, Matthew is a cross between Barnabas on “Dark Shadows”and Remington Steele. He’s a vampire for grown-ups to swoon over.
These are not your everyday undeads. While solving the mystery of an ancient alchemy manuscript that takes them from Oxford’s Bodleian Library, to a 16th century French chateau, to Upstate New York they manage to go to yoga, discuss fine wine and hand out candy on Halloween.
Harkness casts her story with characters who keep growing and developing until the very end. At one point she collects them all, witches, vampires and daemons alike and sticks them in a haunted farmhouse. It’s like “The Real World Transylvania,” and the results show she also has a knack for comedy.
Before you jump into Harkness’ world, I have to warn you that her world might jump into yours. I became so engrossed in “Witches” that I wasn’t sure where Diana’s adventure ended and my life began.
I read the book in three days. After the first day my husband, Graham, peeked his head around the corner and asked if there was anything I needed.
“Do you have any 200-year-old Madeira?” I asked.
“How about a Pepsi in a wineglass,” he offered.
“Right on.” I still knew the difference between truth and fiction.
By the second day I was losing my grip on reality. I tried to cook dinner like Samantha Stevens, by opening the refrigerator and wiggling my nose at it. When nothing happened I spent 20 minutes calling Dr. Bombay.
“Calling Dr. Bombay! Emergency! Come right away!”
He never showed up.
On the third day the two worlds collided. I opened the front door to let the dogs out. Sidney must have smelled spring in the air because he shook the winter off of him and fled. It was still morning and the street was covered in black ice. Sidney was running and sliding, running and sliding. I could tell he was on his way to see the boxer down the road. He hadn’t seen him since November. Sidney loved the boxer. The boxer hated Sidney.
“Stop! By the power of Rin-Tin-Tin, stop!” I commanded. He just kept sliding farther away. I had no choice. In my slippers and robe I took off after him screaming, “Bippity Boppity Boo!” the whole way.
It wasn’t my canine incantations that caught him and saved him from being boxer breakfast. Sidney stopped suddenly in front of me and I slid on top of him pinning all six pounds of ill-behaved Yorkie underneath me. So much for witchcraft.
That afternoon I finished the book. I hated to see the last pages drift by, but the ending was satisfying and ripe for a sequel. If I had to sever ties with Diana and Matthew I hoped it was only for a while.
Friends, if you’re hungry for enchanting characters and a seductive story, I recommend “A Discovery of Witches.” It’s a smart, fast, rollicking read and just the thing for the late-winter doldrums.
Today I feel like spring is coming. There is something magical in the air, and March is always better with a little magic in the middle.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.