Helen's Reviews > Vathek

Vathek by William Beckford
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Sep 06, 10

bookshelves: classics, gothic-fiction
Read from September 05 to 06, 2010

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 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.
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