Friday, September 12, 2008

Three Very Short, Creepy Book Reviews

I just finished Vathek by William Beckford, a very strange Gothic, Oriental fantasy about a surfeitous Caliph that gets duped into thinking his journey to inherit the treasures of the Subterranean Palace of Fire (or something like that)—what we would call "Hell"—will result in great power and eternal happiness. It's well-written and very ornate (very Rococo), but the characters are pretty shallow, really, although the Caliph’s mother, a Saracen queen of sorts, does have a bit more depth than the rest of the cast, in a creepy sort of way.

Before that I read The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, another very strange, almost silly Gothic novel (one of the first in the genre, really) that combines some supernatural elements with surprise unveilings of identity that are central to the story. This one’s a bit more difficult to read than Vathek, especially since the dialog is embedded—no quotation marks!—in extremely long, drawn out paragraphs. It’s also very ornate and pretty creepy, in Freud's uncanny, Gothic sort of way.

And before that, I read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, a very well-written overturning of Frank Baum’s Oz. In some ways, this novel carries a similar creepiness as the Gothic novels I’m reading right now, an uncanniness that drew me in to an experience with the complete otherness of its world. The characters are pretty fully fleshed out, especially Elphaba, the Wicked Witch, a woman whose evilness isn’t as cut-and-dried as the movie depicts (at least Maguire’s version of her isn’t ) and whose intentions become a driving force behind the story’s progression.