Books: Clay and Fire

THE WITCHES by Françoise Mallet-Joris. 391 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $6.95.

To a remarkable degree, these three short novels about witchcraft in 16th and 17th century France seem to have been observed and recorded, rather than written. The characters are not propelled here and there by the author; their movements are their own. This is true of all good fiction, of course. Stories and novels are not clockwork but life systems, given energy by the author's inner eye.

Yet Françoise Mallet-Joris's observation is unusually wary and intense, perhaps because her creatures move in a society held rigid by theology where diabolism is...

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