Horace Walpole – son of former and indeed first ever British Prime Minister Robert Walpole – is generally regarded as the man who started the genre of Gothic fiction and was not only responsible for the prototype story that would inspire such works as Melmoth the Wanderer and The Mysteries of Udolpho but he also coined the use of plot devices seen in such greats as Frankenstein, Dracula and Wuthering heights et al.
The story is classic Gothic fare, ancient prophecies to be fulfilled, brooding horror, romantic entanglements, misunderstandings, deaths and more supernatural goings than you can shake a haunted stick at.
These days, the horror element in this particular book feels dated, desensitized as I have become to the horrors of today’s films and books, it all comes across as rather tame. The spooky goings feel like something that these days is shown on children’s TV, so with that in mind I had to view this as more of a curiosity piece than anything particularly harrowing.
When first published the author claimed it was a translation of a manuscript printed in Naples, dating back to the 1500’s and had been recently found in a library of a Catholic family in Northern England. Not everyone was fooled by this piece of gravitas mongering and in subsequent editions Walpole admitted his authorship.
I liked this peculiar piece of writing, it was absorbing up to a point but what dragged me out of the story was the lack of dread, when clearly it was meant tp be oozing out of the pages. Horror is more sophisticated these days, fears have changed, if there was a Gothic Camp section in your local bookstore this would be highly recommended. There is so much melodrama, I’m sure that soap operas writers would be envious of all the lightly sketched characters and the dramatically choreographed situations.
In all fairness though there is a lot packed in to the mere 100 pages of the book, there are many quotations of Biblical passages, a hefty dose of Shakespeare references and some wonderfully Arthurian imagery (both British and German styles, see Parzival by Wolfram Von Eschenbach in particular for the latter), it’s a great mix for anyone who is familiar with that literature but not noticeable if you have no inclination to read such of the aforementioned works.
it also has a bit of a Scooby-Doo vibe going on,I don’t want to belittle a work that started off a genre with some magnificent works to its name, perhaps this is only me but it just seemed to have a small hint of ridiculousness that reminded me of that staple of my childhood TV, until Scrappy Doo was introduced…then it all went downhill.
As with certain other authors, there are no speech marks contained herein, having said that it doesn’t ever confuse as Walpole always keeps you clued in on who is talking at any moment, in fact I found his style far superior to that, of say, Cormac McCarthy, so instead of my usual whinge on grammar, I will say no more and enjoy the deep sighs of relief.