Ruth's Diary


For once I've decided to write a book review. It's weird that I haven't done one already, considering that I do love books and the original reason for making this website was to publicise my as-of-yet unpublished novels. That was an ambition that I have long since ditched, since my original motive was to make awesome novels for kids. Harry Potter's pretty much stampeded over the market and allowed a flurry of new novels to enter the market (the quicker Twilight dies, the better... Read Anthony Horowitz people!).

Uh, sorry I'm getting off-track. The book I recently finished reading was 'The Monk' by Matthew Gregory Lewis, first published in the late 18th Century. That particular novel I had bought for my Mum as a Christmas present after learning about it in a lecture about 18th Century Literature. Martin Powell summed up Gothic Novels in a hilarious way, before presenting the above-named as the first example of a good Gothic Novel (and not featuring silly damsels running through dark castles).

I have to say, 'The Monk' is a hell of a read. As every terrible dark thing happens to each of the characters, you want to keep reading to see if there really is any hope of a happy ending. After all, a lot of lies are told in this novel, and the reader is truly kept in the dark about what's really happening half the time. In fact, the ending had me questioning for a moment whether one of the characters even actually existed. The Devil even appears. I did not expect that. When he first appears, I decided he couldn't be, since no demon would ever be so obedient to a mere mortal. The next time he appears I felt real fear of him. Or maybe I just felt Ambrosio's fear of him, who knows?

Well I dropped one name already. Ambrosio is the titular monk that goes down the terrible murky path of sin, although a more accurate description would be that he was led down such a path and wasn't strong enough to resist. So his actions are never anywhere near as disturbing as I thought they would be, but it doesn't make them any less cruel. And while the narration is polite about what's going on, it makes every single sexual act very clear. (But I have to say, nowhere near as graphically detailed as in modern novels or fanfic smut.) But one of this novel's weaknesses is its misleading title: you see, it doesn't just focus on Ambrosio and those closest to him, it also focusses on the noble exploits of one of Madrid's Dons Lorenzo, whose loyalties lie with carrying out particular tasks in order to win the heart of a young maiden he's fallen for, as well as trying to contact his nun sister and free her so that she can marry his friend. I name Lorenzo specifically because he's the one that executes the novel's climax, simply by being his noble self.

There are other downsides to the story, which forces the reader to be patient with it. Being written in the 18th Century, the narration is very flowery, while the characters take a very long time to get to the point in their conversations. I find it very hard to believe that 3 centuries ago people spoke in paragraphs, while the other person just listened. Even in more urgent situations, the characters find it difficult to just stick to one sentence. Darn that writing style! Also, the only time I found the characters truly unbelievable was when they become so depressed they fall ill, so ill they can't get out of bed. How pathetic. (Or it's just because they're Spanish?)

Either way, while this novel is breezily classified as Gothic, a lot of people forget that Gothic Novels were the horror stories of their day, and like any good horror story, this novel makes it clear that the good guys (Lorenzo and co) get happy endings, no matter how badly they had to struggle at times. As for those who commit grievous sins? All I'll say is, it's not just Ambrosio that forces others to suffer.

Overall, this is real horror, nothing like the stupid slasher movies that pretend to be horror. In this story, various characters are faced with a lack of choices: forced to endure punishment that they either deserve or not, spiralling into madness, are faced with the prospect of eternal damnation and it all amounts to unbridled fear around every corner. I'm serious, if you're tired of the 'horror' that Hollywood keeps spewing out, give 'The Monk' a go and be very patient with it.

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