BOOK REVIEW / Beds, nobs and broomsticks: Queen of the Witches - Jessica Berens: Hutchinson, pounds 13.99

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The Independent Culture
MEET Sheenah, Director of the Witches' Liberation League. She shrouds her ample form in green and gold caftans, wears viridescent eye-shadow, and shares her Shepherd's Bush haunt with Catty - a creature of such malevolence that her cat-food is spiked with lithium.

Sheenah, like all the other members of the Coven of Covens, is a white witch. Their concern is to improve the image of today's witch and, to this end, they have formulated coherent policies on everything from nuclear power to capital punishment. Angerboda, Queen of the Witches, has decided to retire. Sheenah, who is sweet, kind and a bit slow, hopes to succeed her. So does Myra, a black witch in disguise. If Sheenah wins the election, The Very Moste Secrete Booke Of Witchery and the pounds 6m in the Sacred Bank Account will be in safe hands. If Myra gets her claws on them, the Devil will be unleashed.

The hurly-burly of the hustings hots up only in the final stages of this weird but wonderful novel, which blows the cobwebs off traditional notions of broomstickery. Along the way, a great deal of the fun is provided by Sheenah's four students: carrot-headed Cuthbert Cuthbertson, a nerdy copper; mild Melinda, a vegetarian with a vengeance; enigmatic Steve, with his hypnotic black eyes; scatter-brained Rosaleen Arundell of Eaton Terrace, SW1. When Rosaleen buys a love spell, suitors come flocking to her door. They include various dukes and earls, and the cruel, obnoxious Andrew Grateman, a handsome, frightfully rich writer who regularly collects Oscars for such masterpieces as Late-Night Chopping.

Berens's style is snobbish but shot through with the darts of a Dayglo imagination: the 'tight black curls' of Rosaleen's social secretary give her 'the appearance of a blackberry that had reached the end of the season without being picked'. Berens has also clearly done her homework: the narrative bulges with grotesque roll-calls of spirits good and bad, red-letter days from the Celtic calendar, and the jargon and paraphernalia of ancient worship: herbs, horoscopes, incense, ionisers, pentacles and patchouli. Whether it all actually means anything is neither here nor there. Like the rituals these well-meaning men and women undergo, the witchcraft is mere window-dressing for a New Age melodrama: feel-good fiction that is witty, hilarious and ultimately moving.