The Monk – Matthew Lewis

Wordsworth Books – 2009
monk
I enjoy collecting books, but I’m not in a position to buy nice editions of every book that I want. If the price difference isn’t huge, I’ll go with the hardback edition, but with some books, particularly science fiction, I actually prefer mass-market paperback editions.

I have a particular fondness for ghost stories and gothic horror, and I have hence amounted a small collection of the Wordsworth series of ‘Tales of Mystery and Supernatural Horror’. These books are usually less than $5, and although they aren’t usually annotated as nicely as Penguin or Oxford editions, they do the trick. My biggest gripe with this series is the pathetic cover art on some of the books, especially this one and Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James. Yes, there are cool blood splotches and shiny 3D skulls, but the actual cover images are horribly pixelated; they look like they were thrown together in mspaint.

Anyways, this is one of my favourite books. I love it. There’s plenty of poems and subplots to keep it interesting, along with lots of juicy boldness: bitta shaggin’, a dirty aul priest, the divil floatin’ about…fuckin’ savage. The Bleeding Nun is also very cool. I don’t want to ruin anything on you if you haven’t read the book, but I’ll just admit that I was genuinely surprised when I got to the scene where Matilda unveils herself. I can’t even remember if she was supposed to be good looking or not, but that whole scenario of her in the monastery got me… excited. This book was written by a 19 year old male, and there is definitely an undercurrent of misguided horniess throughout. Apparently the Marquis De Sade was a fan; there’s definitely parts in here that that old gentleman would enjoy.

I won’t talk about this one too much though; there’s a million other reviews of this one online. The book itself is a classic, and if you’re at all interested in gothic horror, you have to read this. 9/10

The 2011 film version with Vincent Cassel is pretty good. It’s definitely worth a watch if you enjoyed the book.

(A parody of The Monk was published in 1798. It’s ingeniously titled ‘The New Monk‘, and apparently it’s even bolder than Lewis’s work. Valancourt have an edition out at the moment that I’ve been thinking about buying. They also have a nice looking edition of the original, with an introduction from Stephen King.)

The Castle of Otranto and The Old English Baron

The Castle of Otranto – Horace Walpole
Collier Books – 1963 (Originally published 1764)

The Old English Baron – Clara Reeves
Oxford – 2008 (Originally published 1778)

castle

For such an influential piece of literature, the Castle of Otranto is really quite silly. It’s not a particularly well written book, but it’s responsible for introducing many of the most common motifs of Gothic fiction. I have found it quite difficult to review this book without comparing it to the far superior novels that were influenced by it.
That’s not to say that this is not an enjoyable book though. It’s too short to get boring; you’ll finish it in an afternoon. The characters and plot are a little flat in comparison to later Gothic novels, but there are enough skeletons and ghosts in here to keep the reader interested. If you like Gothic fiction at all, you should check this one out.

The other book I’m reviewing in this post is The Old English Baron by Clara Reeve. For those of you who don’t know, this book is basically a reworking of the Castle of Otranto with all of the supernatural elements removed. In Reeve’s own words:

This Story is the literary offspring of The Castle of Otranto, written upon the same plan, with a design to unite the most attractive and interesting circumstances of the ancient Romance and modern Novel, at the same time it assumes a character and manner of its own, that differs from both; it is distinguished by the appellation of a Gothic Story, being a picture of Gothic times and manners.

If you can imagine somebody remaking the Exorcist, but leaving out all of the scenes that feature anything to do with possession, then you might just be able to fathom quite how lame this book is. I read it a while back and all I can remember is the irritatingly well-mannered characters incessantly bursting into tears. If you haven’t read this novel and intend on doing so despite my poor review, please keep a red pen handy and underline every instance that a character begins to cry. I would love to know the sum total but I can’t imagine I will ever reread this pile of crap.

The Castle of Otranto is an enjoyable little romp. Read it after your tea on a Sunday.
7/10

 

The Old English Baron (Fuck, even the name is annoying!) is a turd in a diaper. 2/10