In The Cunning Woman’s Cup, echoes from long ago reverberate in the lives of a small community in Northumberland. The tragic life of Mordwand of the Brigantes is briefly told in episodes at the beginning of each chapter. Events from her life impinge into the modern day lives of the other characters in the narrative and help to clarify the spiritual dimension which they experience.
Alice McCleish is a widow, sharing her cottage with her dog Nipper near to the farm of Wyllie and Violet Turnbull, who sadly lost their sons many years before. Alice’s perspective on life is expanded when she makes friends with Margaret Allerton, a professor of anthropology, who is walking in the area. In turn, through meeting Alice, Margaret discovers an empathy for others which she was unaware of in the past.
As the story evolves we meet Alice’s son, Michael, a successful but dissatisfied accountant and his irritating wife Penny. We encounter their clever daughter Marsha and practical son Dexter and soon the whole family make life-changing decisions.
All these events are triggered by a discovery in Alice’s garden which brings a group of archaeologists to the area challenging Alice and others in the village to reappraise their beliefs. A new character, Avian Tyler, comes into their lives. She is attuned to the undercurrents engendered from the stone circle which dominates the skyline on Wyllie’s farm and she senses the pain and suffering hidden in the people she meets.
The dominantly female cast of characters in the novel undergo changes in their attitudes and lifestyle. For most, this is life-enhancing but there is also suffering. This book shows the love of a family and fellowship of friendship in a mystical setting but it also expresses the trials of modern life and the need for adaptation to the rhythms of our environment.
I found myself reading the book slowly so as to get to know the characters properly. With this knowledge the storyline is very rewarding even though Mordwand’s tale is distressing and I wasn’t able to fathom Avian properly. It makes a refreshing read in our hectic modern world.