Steve's Reviews > The Gentling Box

The Gentling Box by Lisa Mannetti
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's review
Apr 04, 2011

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bookshelves: fiction, horror, e-books
Read in August, 2011

At one point, early on in Lisa Mannetti’s novel, The Gentling Box, sad sack half gypsy horse dealer, Imre, is shadowing his gypsy-hag witch lover near a tomb in a Transylvania town, dressed in a stolen cassock. If you’ve ever read Lewis’ The Monk (and you should if you enjoy literary horror with a strong dose of black humor), this scene is inspired stuff. Unfortunately, as funny as I found this scene, I knew by this point that Mannetti was playing it straight. And that’s too bad, because I think she missed an opportunity by not casting the story more as a black comedy. This results, due to the very deliberate writing, in a 300 page novel (according to Amazon – I read this on my Kindle) that feels like it’s 500 pages. There were times I felt like I was on fictional death march. A friendly editor could have helped, cutting away at some of the descriptions. I have to wonder if this is the future when it comes to e-books, especially so with new writers. If so, that’s too bad, because they are the ones most in need of a sure editorial hand.

But that’s probably overstating things, partly because I was frustrated in a good way with Mannetti – who also has enormous promise. On the Horror end of things, she does not hold back. Gypsy witches, werewolfery, a kind of soul sucking vampirism, a haunted hand of ultimately demonic power, dreams of incest, lobotomies, cannibalism (the worst kind), nasty sex with witches, mutilation, and diseased horse snot (a new first for me), are dark examples of the kinds horrors in the book. Anchoring this list is some wonderful research into gypsy customs, placed within an authentic historical (the mid 1860s) context. If you were intrigued by the Transylvania scenes in the original Dracula movie, or the old gypsy in the original Wolfman, you may want to give this book a try (though those movies, in comparison, are very tame). Overall, the reading experience was not unlike my first encounter with Sarah Langan, whose first novel, The Keeper, I found to be equally frustrating – but whose second novel, The Missing, I consider to be one of the best horror novels I’ve read over the last ten years. I think there is ample evidence in The Gentling Box that Mannetti is capable of doing the same.
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