I had never heard of Watch the Wall, My Darling until it started appearing in my recommendations on Goodreads, and with such an intriguing title I kne...moreI had never heard of Watch the Wall, My Darling until it started appearing in my recommendations on Goodreads, and with such an intriguing title I knew it was a book I would have to consider reading eventually! First published in 1966, it seems to be out of print now in paperback or hardback format, but used copies are available and an ebook version has also been released.
Watch the Wall, My Darling is a gothic romantic suspense novel set on the south-east coast of England during the Napoleonic Wars. As the story begins, Christina Tretton, a young American woman whose father has recently died, is returning to her family’s ancestral home, Tretteign Grange. After encountering a gang of smugglers on the journey, Christina arrives at the Grange – also known as the Dark House – and is met by her Aunt Verity, her invalid grandfather and her handsome cousin, Ross.
Settling into her new home, Christina quickly takes control of the management of the house and the servants. Impressed with his granddaughter, old Mr Tretteign decides to change his will and leave the Grange to Christina – on the condition that she must marry either Ross or her other cousin, Richard. Christina insists that she has no intention of marrying either of them, but her two cousins, who each have their own reasons for wanting the Grange, have other ideas. Despite herself, she finds herself drawn to Ross, but soon discovers that he is involved in something very dangerous – and with England expecting a French invasion at any moment, the lives of everyone at the Dark House could be at risk.
I enjoyed this book – it was a fun, undemanding read with plenty of adventure and intrigue and a touch of romance. I kept being reminded of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, Georgette Heyer’s Cousin Kate and Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting, though this is not as well written or memorable as any of those, in my opinion. The historical background didn’t feel particularly strong and Christina felt more like a woman of the 1960s than the 1800s, while I didn’t find Ross quite as fascinating and attractive as she did. The introduction of two new characters towards the end of the book didn’t really add anything to the story either. Still, with smugglers, soldiers and spies, a crumbling abbey believed to be haunted, family secrets and an inheritance to be decided, there was more than enough to keep me happy!
And if you’re wondering, the title comes from a poem by Rudyard Kipling called A Smuggler’s Song:
"Five and twenty ponies Trotting through the dark Brandy for the parson, 'Baccy for the clerk; Laces for a lady; letters for a spy, And watch the wall, my darling, while the gentlemen go by!"(less)
The Thirteenth Tale is the story of the reclusive and secretive Vida Winter, the world's most popular author, who summons Margaret Lea to write her bi...moreThe Thirteenth Tale is the story of the reclusive and secretive Vida Winter, the world's most popular author, who summons Margaret Lea to write her biography. Margaret is surprised by the request - after all, she's just an amateur biographer who works in her father's bookshop - but she agrees to visit Miss Winter and listen to what she has to say. As the story of Winter's childhood unfolds, Margaret discovers what it is they have in common and why she was chosen to write the biography.
The Thirteenth Tale borrows elements of classic novels such as Wuthering Heights, The Woman in White, Jane Eyre, and The Turn of the Screw and it felt instantly familiar to me: the Yorkshire moors, twins, mistaken identities, ghosts and governesses all play a part in the story. I'm not saying this book was unoriginal or an exact copy of any other novel - it wasn't - but Diane Setterfield was obviously trying to capture the overall mood of those gothic classics. Not only are the books I just mentioned referred to over and over again in the story, but they are cleverly incorporated into the plot. I can see why The Thirteenth Tale has been so popular because it really is a book for book lovers!
Yet despite the familiarity, I didn't guess everything that was going to happen. When the solution to the mystery (or one of the mysteries, as there are a few) was revealed, it surprised me - although the clues had been there all along and I'm sure if I read the book again it would be obvious.
One thing that struck me while I was reading this book was that we are never told when the story was supposed to be set. There are no historical references to suggest when the events of the book are taking place. Even Margaret's timeframe, although obviously fairly recent, is still vague. I'm sure this was deliberate and it does help to give the story a timeless feel, but I'm one of those readers who likes to know when a story is set!
While I didn't love this book as much as I hoped I would (which I suspect might just be because I've read too many books of this type recently), it was fun, entertaining and very quick to read for a book with over 450 pages. It was also a perfect read for late December - a book to curl up with indoors while it's cold and dark outside. (less)
This is one of the strangest novels I have ever read! It's the story of Vathek, ninth Caliph of the race of the Abassides, and his temptation by a sup...moreThis is one of the strangest novels I have ever read! It's the story of Vathek, ninth Caliph of the race of the Abassides, and his temptation by a supernatural being (known as 'the Giaour'), who promises to bestow on him the treasures and talismans of the 'palace of subterranean fire'.
The best way I can describe Vathek is that it's a sort of dark, twisted fairy tale reminiscent of The Arabian Nights. Beckford mixes eastern mythology and Islamic culture with elements of the gothic novel (ghouls, spirits, graveyards, an atmosphere of evil) and throws in some magic, fantasy and romance for good measure. There are some long and poetic descriptive passages which become quite surreal and dreamlike in places.
The book is short in length but it's not a quick, easy read. The entire story is told in one big chunk, rather than being broken into chapters, which made it seem quite daunting. If it had been any longer I probably wouldn't have finished it because although the beginning and the ending were great, I started to lose interest during the middle section.
Vathek is completely bizarre and probably a book that you'll either love or hate. It's worth reading if you're interested in the origins of gothic literature, fantasy or horror - and it apparently influenced both Byron and H.P. Lovecraft, among others. If you don't take this book too seriously, it's quite entertaining. (less)
When I first opened this book I was confronted by page after page of almost continuous text with virtually no paragraph breaks and no quotation marks...moreWhen I first opened this book I was confronted by page after page of almost continuous text with virtually no paragraph breaks and no quotation marks or any way of marking when one person stops speaking and the next begins. This made it difficult to follow the dialogue but otherwise the story is easy enough to understand considering it was published in 1764.
Manfred, the Prince of Otranto, has arranged a marriage between his fifteen year old son Conrad and the princess Isabella. However, on the day of the wedding Conrad is found crushed to death in the courtyard beneath an enormous black feathered helmet which appears to have fallen from the sky. As his son is obviously now in no position to go ahead with the wedding, Manfred decides to marry Isabella himself, but Isabella has other ideas...cue a never-ending chain of misunderstandings, coincidences and mayhem.
The Castle of Otranto is historically important because it was the first gothic novel - complete with haunted castles, underground tunnels, damsels in distress, knights, ghosts and paintings that move - but don't expect a piece of great literature. In places the plot is so ridiculous and the writing so melodramatic that it's actually hilarious.
The Castle of Otranto is funny and entertaining – and very short – but I can't imagine ever wanting to read it again. For a better introduction to gothic fiction I would recommend The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, which is a longer book but much better written.(less)