The passionate, turbulent tale of mutually destructive love between Heathcliff and Catherine set against a dark, almost claustrophobic background. (It...moreThe passionate, turbulent tale of mutually destructive love between Heathcliff and Catherine set against a dark, almost claustrophobic background. (It kind of reminds me of Goya in his Black period.) It's really as much a horror story as it is a love story, at least in the first half. The second half seems more Victorian morality play. I'm glad I read it, but if I were to ever re-read it, I think I'd just read the first half and skip the second.(less)
Loved the beginning, it was creepy and fun in a Lovecraftian sort of way. The middle, when we learn more about Frankenstein and his creature, was kind...moreLoved the beginning, it was creepy and fun in a Lovecraftian sort of way. The middle, when we learn more about Frankenstein and his creature, was kind of interesting in a humanist/existentialist sort of way, but by the end... I don't know. I usually like "slow descent into madness" stories but I'm not sure that the author recognized that her title character was mad, and the combined lack of awareness and anything resembling a sense of humor is kind of deadly to me.
I'm glad I finished it but I'm not sure if I'm glad I read it. (It is nice to have it off Mount TBR though!)(less)
On the plus side: it's short and fast-paced. I was hoping for something a bit more atmospheric, but there were a lot of fun pieces -- a giant...more3.5 stars
On the plus side: it's short and fast-paced. I was hoping for something a bit more atmospheric, but there were a lot of fun pieces -- a giant floating helmet (of doom!), prophetic dreams, hidden passages, ghostly visitations, a languishing death scene, and a thoroughly villainous villain (named Manfred!).
On the minus side: the lack of dialog markers made this kind of confusing and irritating to read. Also, all of the virtuous characters were so... so ... is zest-less a word? I could have done with more zest.
Still, I'm glad I finally read it. Among other things, I learned that in the 18th century Gothic novels were also called Terrorist novels, which I find fascinating. I do wonder at the claim that "Matilda is ... the quintessential Gothic name" because really?(less)
Snarky humor and a self-assured heroine - yay! Skillful, playful use of Gothic tropes - yay! The ending -- I'm so glad I was warned/spoiled ahead of tim...moreSnarky humor and a self-assured heroine - yay! Skillful, playful use of Gothic tropes - yay! The ending -- I'm so glad I was warned/spoiled ahead of time. It makes perfect sense, and I can see what it is probably going to lead to, but I think it would be a pretty brutal endpoint without foreknowledge.(less)
Synopsis: After her father's death, Theodora Lestrange leaves Edinburgh to visit a childhood friend in Roumania and work on her novel. There,...more3.5 stars
Synopsis: After her father's death, Theodora Lestrange leaves Edinburgh to visit a childhood friend in Roumania and work on her novel. There, she meets the brooding Count Andrei Dragulescu. Gothic hijinks ensue.
The eerie tone is set as soon as Theodora enters Transylvania:
"The water flows from springs through the graveyards and into the town, its purity contaminated by the dead."
and continues throughout descriptions of the decayed castle:
"The candlelight gloom concealed the tarnish and moth I had detected by daylight, and the fire burning in the tremendous hearth and the great dog lounging beside it lent an air of medieval grandeur."
Similarly eery is her host, the Count Dragulescu. Recently returned to the castle after his father's death, the count had spent the past decade debauching around Paris, using Casanova and Baudelaire as his role models. At this point I was glad to be reading this for the Gothic aspects rather than the romance, as... ugh, not my scene. But I'm not the heroine of this particular story, Theodora is, and she had a much different response to the count:
"I dipped a spoon into the pudding and took a bite. It melted, creamy and luxurious against my tongue, the comfort of a nursery pudding dissolving into something quite exotic and otherworldly. What had been bland and uninspiring in Scotland here was mysterious and almost sensual. It seemed a fitting metaphor for the place itself, I decided with a flick of my gaze towards the count. I dipped my spoon again and gave myself up to the pleasures of the table."
Indeed, Theodora seems to relish her time in this strange land with its unexpected sensuality and danger, learning about the myths of werewolves and strigoi (vampires) with the same fascination as she learned about the local black apples. (Albeit with less doubts, vis à vis the apples.)
Even after learning that the count's late father might be a strigoi, out to destroy everyone who carries his blood, including his pregnant mistress/housemaid, Theodora becomes more immersed in the mystery and danger of the castle and its inhabitants. The count, of course, picks up on Theodora's Gothic fascination, and structures his seduction accordingly:
"Is it so terrible to believe in the dark and terrible things you have been told of? Fear and passion walk hand in hand, you know. We are afraid of being destroyed, being possessed, and yet we crave it. What child has not thrilled to ghost stories whispered under the bedclothes by the dark of the moon? And what man or woman has not longed to be lost in the wood and found again? I shook my head. "You speak in riddles and I do not understand you. He leaned forward, his grey eyes quite black in the shadowy room. "Then let me speak plainly. You are afraid here and you do not know what to believe. I have told you that I will protect you. You have only to trust me and you will be free to enjoy your fears."
Honestly, while I did mostly enjoy Theodora and Andrei's interaction, her endless ruminations about the relationship did start to wear on me after awhile. Which is why I was happy when condescending Charles (her publisher and not-quite-fiancé) arrives from Edinburgh to find out what's going on. I think he's supposed to be the level-headed nice boy in the love triangle, but since Theodora isn't really interested in him romantically, he serves more as a safety net for her in case she needs an out.
But his arrival also serves as a catalyst for the plot to really start, which I welcomed. A creepy atmosphere is all well and good, but story progression is also nice. Without spoiling things, what followed includes an attempted murder, more rumors of strigoi, betrayal, secret passages, a flight through the woods, poison, and a dog rescue. (Fun!)
Overall, I really enjoyed the author's writing style: While modern enough to be more accessible than its 19th century counterparts, it has the classic Gothic pacing and atmospheric tone, a mix of scary and sensual that made me smell the juniper and basil, and wonder what new monstrous thing would be unveiled next.(less)
Delightfully creepy bit of Gothic fiction. The romantic elements are fairly light, but boy howdy do they make me glad for the 40 years of feminism sin...moreDelightfully creepy bit of Gothic fiction. The romantic elements are fairly light, but boy howdy do they make me glad for the 40 years of feminism since this book was written.(less)
Kind of a crazy mash-up of Gothic PNR and bdsm erotica featuring Mayan gods and demons.
The worldbuilding was much easier to follow than in the first b...moreKind of a crazy mash-up of Gothic PNR and bdsm erotica featuring Mayan gods and demons.
The worldbuilding was much easier to follow than in the first book, and sometimes made me laugh (zombie conquistadors!). The characters very dramaticly emoted in a way that would probably annoy me in another story but made sense here. The erotic elements were blended into the worldbuilding and plotting in a way that made sense to me (but of course some may find that it's too much or too little, depending on your expectations). There is quite a bit of bloodplay and capture & bondage, but it's all consensual.
The one thing that I had a problem with was the diary technique of telling the story. That style doesn't work for me when it includes a lot of dialog and fight scenes, etc., so I mostly just tried to ignore it.
Overall, a fun story. I think I still prefer Burkhart's contemporaries but I'd be happy to read more in this series.(less)
With apologies to the number of people who've enthusiastically recommended this to me, it's a DNF at the halfway point.
Blame it on my false expectatio...moreWith apologies to the number of people who've enthusiastically recommended this to me, it's a DNF at the halfway point.
Blame it on my false expectation that this was a Gothic, blame it on the hundreds of pages of slowly (slowly!) unveiled secrets, or blame it on my need for hijinks or some connection to the characters, but I'm giving up on this. Elegantly written, but I'm finding myself avoiding it more and more and don't see the point in guilt-reading to the end.(less)
This was so much fun! The setting is Georgian England, but the story structure and tone seemed much more 1930s to me, a slapstick comedy that had me c...moreThis was so much fun! The setting is Georgian England, but the story structure and tone seemed much more 1930s to me, a slapstick comedy that had me casting Carole Lombard as the mischievous Miss Thane, Errol Flynn as the dashing Ludovic, Fredric March as the level-headed Tristram, and... I'm still struggling to figure out who could do justice to Eustacie's morbid enthusiasms, prompted by too many Gothic romances.
If I hadn't been reading a library book, I would have dog-earred about half the pages in search of the perfect quote to share. But instead of quoting half the book, I'll share what is probably my favorite passage (along with the scene where Eustacie describes her imagined trip to the guillotine and the scene where Miss Thane and Tristram announce their betrothal. So many possible choices!)
"A secret panel?" repeated Miss Thane in an awed voice. "You mean actually a secret panel?" Ludovic regarded her with some slight concern. "Yes, why not?" "I thought it too good to be true," said Miss Thane. "If there is one thing above all others I have wanted all my life to do it is to search for a secret panel! I suppose," she added hopefully, "it would be too much to expect to find an underground passage leading from the secret panel?" Eustacie clasped her hands ecstatically. "But yes, of course! An underground passage--" "With bats and dead men's bones," shuddered Miss Thane. French common sense asserted itself. Eustacie frowned. "Not bats, no. That is not reasonable. But certainly some bones, chained to the wall." "And damp--it must be damp!" "Not damp; cobwebs," put in Ludovic. "Huge ones, which cling to you like--" "Ghostly fingers!" supplied Miss Thane. "Oh, Ludovic, there is a passage?" breated Eustacie. He laughed, "Lord, no! It's just a priests' hole, that's all." "How wretched!" said Miss Thane, quite disgusted. "It makes me lose all heart."
I'm not really sure what I think of this. I can see how some people would call it Gothic and some people would just call it weird.
"Feel this heart, f
...moreI'm not really sure what I think of this. I can see how some people would call it Gothic and some people would just call it weird.
"Feel this heart, father! It is yet the seat of honour, truth, and chastity; if it beats tomorrow, it must fall a prey to the blackest crimes. Oh, let me then die to-day! ... Folded in your arms, I shall sink to sleep; your hand shall close my eyes for ever, and your lips receive my dying breath. And will you not sometimes think of me? Will you not sometimes shed a tear upon my tomb?"
It does have Gothic elements, like ghosts and spooky castles/houses/abbeys/crypts/forests and innocent damsels in distress from fiendish villains. The Bleeding Nun in particular was delightfully spooky:
"The spectre again pressed her lips to mine, again touched me with her rotting fingers and, as on her first appearance, quitted the chamber as the clock told 'two'."
But it also has some real Horror elements, like violent murders and crypts filled with rotting corpses. And there were some things that reminded me of Sade, like the religious cynicism and rapes. (Edit to add: after looking at a few commentaries, it looks like the extra violence was inspired by the German school of Gothic stories, and that Sade did use this as an inspiration. So...)
"Redouble your outward austerity, and thunder out menaces against the errors of others, the better to conceal your own. ... she is unworthy to enjoy love's pleasures, who has not wit enough to conceal them."
"The prudent mother, while she admired the beauties of the sacred writings [of the Bible], was convinced that, unrestricted, no reading more improper could be permitted a young woman."
I don't know. It was interesting, but I think I would have related to it more if I'd read it when I was 20 (about the age of the author when he wrote it). At this point in my life, I like my Gothic stuff to be a bit more self-aware or goofy, and my social commentary to be a bit more hopeful.(less)
I'm not sure if my expectations were too high or if they were just too far off from the reality, but I did not...more2.5 stars
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
I'm not sure if my expectations were too high or if they were just too far off from the reality, but I did not enjoy this as much as I had expected.
From reviews I've seen, I had the expectation that this would be a parody of Gothic novels, which it was, but I was hoping for more Gothic elements instead of so much social realism. (If I want realism, I read non-fiction.) I had also read that the parody was an affectionate one, and... it was at times, chiefly when Henry was speaking, but at other times it seemed almost caustic, in terms of both the genre and its readers:
"Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom, so common with novel writers, of degrading, by their contemptuous censure, the very performances to the number of which they are themselves adding: joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. ... Such is the common cant. 'And what are you reading, Miss --- ?' 'Oh! it is only a novel!' replies the young lady; while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. [It is] only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor, are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language."
Maybe I’m misinterpreting that passage, but what seems at first like support for the genre goes on for so long and with so many superlatives that by the time I reached the end it seemed more like sharp-tongued sarcasm. And since that appears in an early chapter, through the rest of the book I felt like every comment about the Gothic genre – even the most positive – contained an element of scorn. And book shaming makes me angry.
And then we get to the Thorpe family. I’m not sure what to say about them except that I wanted Isabella and John to DIAF. Even when they weren’t being actively spiteful. Unfortunately, they consume a good portion of the first half of the book.
I enjoyed watching Catherine interact with the Tilney family, though. They were the only reason I made it through to the end. Somehow Henry’s know-it-all-ness seemed charming through Catherine’s eyes, and his sister Eleanor’s sensible nature seemed to help ground Catherine in a positive way.
Cathering speaking with Henry:
“What beautiful hyacinths! I have just learnt to love a hyacinth."
“And how might you learn? By accident or argument?”
“Your sister taught me: I cannot tell how. Mrs. Allen used to take pains, year after year, to make me like them; but I never could, till I saw them the other day in Milsom Street; I am naturally indifferent about flowers.”
“But now you love a hyacinth. So much the better. You have gained a new source of enjoyment, and it is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible. … The mere habit of learning to love is the thing; and a teachableness of disposition in a young lady is a great blessing.”
My feelings about Catherine herself are complicated. She is supposedly the heroine of the book, an innocent 17-year-old who leaves her family home for the first time and finds love. But she never has any real agency, never seems to determine anything for herself -- she pines, but she doesn’t act – and at the end even her mother mentions that she’s much the same person she was at the beginning of the story. Maybe that's due to the time period it was written, when a woman getting married was more valued than her self-actualization, but if I’m reading something described as a coming-of-age story, I want some growth, and the hyacinth scene aside, I never felt like I saw any of that.
In terms of the Gothic elements, I felt like I was Charlie Brown and the book was Lucy with a football: it kept promising Gothic elements – a mysterious abbey, a locked cabinet, a possible murder – and then pulled the football away to reveal the prosaic reality.
So, while there were some charming elements in this book, overall I’m disappointed in the lack of character development and the absence of Gothic hijinks.