Frankenstein

Do you share my madness?

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The spark that lit the imagination of an eighteen-year-old girl during a bleak summer on Lake Geneva gave life to the Gothic novel. The Castle of Otranto may have started it, but Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is without doubt the genre’s seminal work. Scanning (with amusement) some of the one or even zero star reviews on Goodreads from readers seething with rage over expecting a horror book and instead finding a (God forbid) melodrama, I wonder if it should not be reclassified as as romance; although that might result in a shirtless Fabio as the creature with a fainting Elizabeth in his arms, and there is already enough confusion about a brilliant story eclipsed by monster B-movies, comic books, and a brilliant comedy called Young Frankenstein. All of these have, of course, little to do with the actual novel, which is perhaps why the outrage. But if readers can possibly clear their minds of prejudice, they will find one of the finest novels in the English language. Its themes are deep, its symbolism vast, and that a young woman was able to conceive all of this and write it down in elegant prose and moves the reader’s eye effortlessly along the page to its devastating conclusion is a wonder as profound as Victor Frankenstein’s creation.

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Rosemary’s Baby

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Satan’s coming!

Beware the chalky undertaste…

Continuing  with my Gothic Literature Reading Challenge (no particular order) I reread Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin, chowing it down in a few days. I enjoyed my Franklin Press leather bound edition (trying to collect all of the Gothic volumes). Good lit deserves quality bindings.

This is one of those books I wish I could go back in time and read cold, although it’s a testament to Levin’s great skill that a story I know every nuance of can still keep me turning pages till dawn.

In his 1981 book on horror, Danse Macabre, Stephen King praises Levin as a one of the great plotters. He is the Swiss watchmaker of the suspense novel.  And it’s true. Every revelation is supported by the hidden, and often overt, character motivations. Guy, an inspiring actor played to sleazy brilliance by John Cassavetes in the film, admits he’s a great bullshit artist and liar (brags about it in fact) on the first few pages of the book as the newlyweds try to get out of their lease so they can move into the Bramford, a fictitious Gothic apartment house along Central Park. Can’t say he didn’t warn you. Minnie Castevet, the nosy neighbor, says as much about herself when she declares I’m selfish as the day is long. She ain’t lying. You can’t trust anyone of these damn witches. Poor, naive Rosemary, carrying a time bomb in her belly during the hottest summer in New York history (a metaphor for Hell I assume) realizes this all too late. Continue reading “Rosemary’s Baby”

The Castle of Otranto

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Faint of heart…

Continuing with my Gothic Literature Reading Challenge 2017, I head for the granddaddy of Gothic literature The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (try to say it fast).  After reading some of the Goodreads reviews, I expected this to be a real chore, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this (gratefully) brief, at times silly tale. It helped that I found this beautiful Easton Press leather bound copy in my personal library. The moiré endpaper, satin book mark, color plates, and gold embossed leather cover enhanced my reading experience of this classic. Continue reading “The Castle of Otranto”

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Victorian Brain Fever

As part of my personal Gothic literature reading challenge, I start with Dracula by Bram Stoker. Here’s a book that I pretended to read in the past (I’d started it several times) but in truth I’d only seen the movies from Murnau’s silent Nosferatu to Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula , which I re-watched last night and highly recommend as a companion piece to the reading challenge (if you care to join me). The film, which I’ve seen a few times, is visually stunning, and is faithful to the book with one major difference. The central theme of the film is the relationship between the Count and Mina Hawker, a woman for whom he crossed centuries of time. Alas, there is no such romance in the book unless you read between the lines (Mina does swallow his blood). The novel’s Mina character is the model for unstained Victorian womanhood (yawn) and cheating on poor Jonathan Hawker with the Count just won’t cut it. One reason I think I struggled with the book , versus reading Frankenstein which is my favorite novel, is that it’s episodic without being very insightful. There are certainly moments that chilled me to the bone–one that comes to mind is Lucy coming back as undead and smuggling a child back to her crypt; another is the dead captain tied to the wheel of the ship that brings the count to London along with his boxes filled with the profane, foul-smelling earth in which he must sleep each day.

There are also comical touches (like Lucy dropping that kid) that both the book and Coppola’s film explore, particularly in Van Hesling’s character (Anthony Hopkins is a hoot) as he casually mentions cutting off dear Lucy’s head and stuffing her mouth with garlic. The novel is told in an epistolary format using letters, diary entries, ship’s logs, clippings, and recordings from early cylinder phonographs. Written in 1897, the book explores these modern inventions of bustling London juxtaposing it with the old world superstitions and dangerous landscape of Transylvania. There is a lot of information about the source material for the novel. Whether Vlad the Impaler was Stoker’s inspiration is up for debate (but I’d like to think so).

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Continue reading “Dracula by Bram Stoker”

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