A first look at Mark Winkler’s new novel, ‘The Erro…

Mark Winkler is the author of the critically acclaimed novels, An exceptionally simple theory (of absolutely everything), Wasted(published internationally as My name is Nathan Lucius), The safest place you know, Theo & Flora and South of Copenhagen. He was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize and his work has been published worldwide in English and in French translation.

Her new novel, The Mistakes of Doctor Browne, takes place in Bury St Edmonds in Suffolk in the United Kingdom, in 1662, when two widows are accused of acts of witchcraft. This is one of the last witch trials in England. Doctor Thomas Browne, philosopher, naturalist, logician and doctor of medicine, accepts the role of both inquisitor and witness, embarking on what his biographer would later call “the most culpable and stupid action of his life “.

The Mistakes of Doctor Browne is an ironic and insightful insight into the limits of reason, the patriarchal need to control all aspects of femininity, and our constant preoccupation with reputation.

The book will be released on August 1. This is an excerpt.


It was therefore late in the day and early in the evening, when I found my way down Cook Row to the market, a muddy ground under which there might or might not be cobblestones, and hence the stench of guts of fish and curds appeared. Only one late merchant remained from the day’s business, packing his unsold, dripping wares onto a cart. I greeted him and asked where I could find Moyse’s Hall, or better yet, Judge Sir Matthew Hale, who was to preside over the Lenten Assizes at Shire House. The man narrowed his already narrow eyes and looked at me shamelessly – up and down, here and there, pausing before raising his lip to check my teeth – before pointing to the room of the other side of the square, an old building very mistreated by the passage of time. There I found Sir Matthew, at a table drawn up by the fireside in the drafty room, surrounded by stacked papers and stacked books and half a dozen twinkling candles, quill in hand. , wig put aside, himself wrapped in furs to some degree. where only the sharpest features of his face were visible.

‘And you are?’ Sir Matthew asked as I approached, so busy with his work that he hadn’t looked up.

“A physician and author, and an examiner of the natural world, at your service.”

“Ah, my old friend Dr. Browne,” he said, rising, his pen still in his hand. “You forgot ‘philosopher’ and ‘logician’ in your introduction. I feared you got lost or fell victim to brigands on the way. He pulled back the fur from his face, revealing large paper ears, a small bald head so tightly wrapped in skin that the skull threatened to burst, and on that blanket not a hair, eyebrow or eyelash, as if some alopecia had deprived him of any living follicles.

“It’s two days from Norwich, and I got your summons three days ago.”

“Of course,” said Sir Matthew, and he groaned like a more solid man would, pointing to a chair with his pen, which he wiped with a rag of ink and set on the stand beside the inkwell, and the table he took a little ring and ring. A door creaked in the shadows and a maid appeared in the firelight, rushing towards us and curtsying, whether it was to Sir Matthew or to me, I cannot tell.

‘My lord?’ she said in a voice so soft I could barely make out her.

“Wine,” said Sir Matthew, looking at me rather than at the woman, and continuing to do so long after she had fled. “We are dealing with a matter that will require some circumspection, Dr. Browne,” he said when the door closed. “By “we”, I mean myself as an assize judge, the court officers, and you, by extension, if you accept this commission. He rested his elbows on the table and clasped his hands under his chin, looking at me like he was waiting for a question, but I didn’t. “You are an educated man and you will certainly know that trials, as far as witches are concerned, are rapidly falling out of favor in this modern world.”

“Witches, did you say, Sir Matthew?”

“Witches, Dr. Browne. Charges have been brought against two women from the parish of Leystoff, and so a witch trial awaits us.

“A witch trial,” I repeated, unable to suppress the wonder in my voice, and wondering at the same time if what lay ahead couldn’t be called a “women’s trial” until actually shows them to be witches. “And I had thought that these questions belonged to a more superstitious past. DM/ML

The Mistakes of Doctor Browne is published by Penguin Random House SA (R290). Visit The reading list for South African book news, every day – including excerpts!

Irene B. Bowles