Valancourt Books – 2005 (Originally published 1978)
Originally published in two volumes in 1798, The Animated Skeleton is an early example of the Gothic novel. What distinguishes this book from some of its contemporaries that I’ve reviewed on this site (The Castle of Otranto (1764), Vathek (1786), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), The Monk (1796), …) is the fact that it remained out of print for more than 200 years.
The Animated Skeleton has all the stuff you’d expect. There’s hidden passages, a virginal maiden, haunted chambers, a tyrannical ruler and his subservient bandits. Plus, the plot plays out in a nunnery and a castle. Why then, I hear you asking, did this book fade into obscurity while the novels of Ann Radcliffe have seen hundreds of editions?
I can’t say for certain, but I have a feeling that it might have something to do with the fact that it’s very, very shitty.
Honestly, this is not good at all. It’s a terrible, boring, confusing mess.
A family goes on the run after the mother is assaulted by some brutes. After getting framed for murder, they go to a monastery where they find out that a powerful woman (she’s not quite a queen) in a local castle has a grudge against them and their mate. The mother of the family dies, and then there’s a court case where it becomes apparent that they are innocent. Meanwhile, ghosts are showing up back in the castle of the bad lady. I did read the rest, but it was so boring that I don’t want to recount it here.
There’s too many characters, and most of them are entirely forgettable. One of them has two names, and the author goes back and forth between them even though they say they won’t. Honestly, reading this was a chore. I have read that the low quality was because the author of this book wrote it to make money rather than literature and that this distinguishes it from the earlier works of gothic fiction mentioned above. I suppose this book will be of interest to those interested in the history of the gothic novel, but if you’re looking for an enjoyable read, you should probably avoid The Animated Skeleton.
In saying this, I cannot over emphasize how grateful I am to Valancourt Books for literally making it their business to republish books like this. Personally, I am mildly interested in the history of the Gothic novel, and I’m very happy to have been able to read The Animated Skeleton. This is one of the first books that Valancourt put out, and they have gone on to make loads of awesome books available again. I think that the world is lucky to have a company that puts the effort in to preserve these strange old tales for future generations. I fully intend to read more of Valancourt’s Gothic reprints in the future.
I hope you all have a spooky (and safe) Halloween!