Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

When I was recently purchasing some more Fanny Burney books I saw the Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Remembering the references to it in Northanger Abbey, I thought it was a book that I should read and I'm glad I did!

The most popular book of the author's time, this Gothic Romance was published in 1794 and was read with excitement - in 1824 Sir Walter Scott recalled the eagerness of whole familes as the four volumes of the work "flew, and were sometimes torn, from hand to hand".

Set in France and Italy two centuries before it was written, it is a wonderful tale of suspense. Our heroine, Emily St Aubert, is orphaned a short period before she is of legal age. Aware of the proprieties and social moires of the time, she goes to live with her aunt, a cold, selfish woman. Before her father dies, she meets and falls in love with the Chevalier Valancourt and her early expectation of marriage to him under her Aunt's care is dashed when her Aunt marries Signor Montoni, and they remove to Italy - firstly Venice and then to the Apennines to the secluded Castle Udolpho.

Emily's fears of inpropriety, marriage to any man but her beloved Valancourt, and the loss of her family estate are soon expanded to almost permanent periods of terror induced by Montoni's heartless treatment and fearful associations, not to mention ghostly mysteries within the dark and gothic castle.

The novel is full of descriptive scenic views of the place and time, which belies the fact that the author only travelled abroad once in her life; poetry appears frequently and I must admit I skimmed over those passages a bit!

The pace of the novel can be slow and there is the occasional thread that lacks continuity (perhaps this is only something that the modern reader would note). Personally I don't think the romance aspect of the novel is all that convincing although the overall devotion of Emily and Valancourt is obvious.

The author's real strength is suspense and intrigue - for example, we wait right until the end of the novel before we find out what scares Emily so much in the remote room of Udolpho where a picture is hidden behind a black veil.

It is not a particularly 'easy' read. I found I needed quiet and preferably solitude to read it, and in that environment I could envision and enjoy the story more and make steady progress through the volumes.

It is a wonderful example of its genre and should be mandatory reading for lovers of Austen et al.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fallen by Lauren Kate

My 11 y.o. niece who is a confessed Twilight fan is now reading this book. She left it at my house a couple of days ago and I thought, 'why not?', picked it up and finished it that day.

A story of everlasting love with a handsome and aloof immortal male lead and a confused somewhat troubled mortal female lead, as well as a highschool setting with little parental input, it does bear some similarity to the Twilight novel and I can definitely see the appeal to the same audience. However instead of vampires, we're dealing with angels.

The book opens with an emotionally and sexually charged prologue where a young woman, mid 1850s, finds herself inexplicably drawn to a handsome young man. She succumbs to the magnetic pull she feels towards him, desire flames brightly and she disappears.

We then turn to the modern day. Luce, a troubled teen who has seen 'shadows' most of her life, is sent to a reform school, the Sword and Cross, after the mysterious and somewhat suspicious death of a boy she liked at her previous, ivy league school. Her new school is filled with a motley assortment of hard-core reform cases and she is quickly 'claimed' by a somewhat crazy girl who guides her through her first days.

Within hours of arriving at the school, she sets her eyes on Daniel, a gorgeous boy who almost immediately acts coldly towards her. However, there is a pull towards him she can't explain and she feels strongly that she knows him from somewhere.

As the story continues, Luce is befriended by a 'normal' fellow student who aids her sanity and need to find out more about Daniel, a boy with piercing green eyes attempts to romance her, she is involved in a suspicious death at the school and moments of closeness with Daniel that confuse Luce further while reinforcing the depth of her feelings for him.

Written for the young adult market, this is no great literary work. However it is a good story, rather hard to put down with stomach-twisting emotion that will appeal to girls and women who need a romantic/eternal love fix. (Yes, I'm one of them!)

The next instalment in the story, Torment, is due out September 2010.