Archive for October, 2011

Gothic chiller fails to thrill

October is here – with its colder, darkening evenings and the approach of those pagan festivals based on the supernatural. What better time, I thought, to get stuck into a Gothic- style chiller? So The Possessions of Dr Forrest seemed like the perfect choice and it was lovely to welcome some newcomers to the group.
Kelly’s last novel, The Crusaders, was met with great acclaim so it’s not surprising that expectations were high. The book, however, chosen because the author Richard T. Kelly was a speaker at this month’s Durham Book Festival, sparked even more diverse opinions than Dr Forrest had new bodies. Certainly it wasn’t the easiest of reads, largely because of Kelly’s presumably deliberately verbose language, the diary form and the multiple narrators who did not, for me, have different enough voices. Among those who didn’t finish it – and there were several – was Hannah, who found it did not grab her attention. She e-mailed her comments that “for a chiller genre, it’s not exactly very gripping” and she found the author’s use of other languages an irritation. She did, however, like the diary form, which she found effective.
A champion for the novel was Ann C, who although she felt it came across as a rather cold, academic exercise, found the characters well-drawn and liked the way their weaknesses damned them. All the Gothic tropes were there and there were enough for Ann C to find it scary – she liked the notion of the dispossessed and the way the novel was a comment on vanity. Helen, who also e-mailed her comments, liked the modern twist on an Edgar Allan Poe type Gothic horror novel: “Gothic horror with mobile phones and laptops – nice!” It may even inspire her to read more by the author, she added.
Janet found the language confusing and inconsistent, in that it veered from being archaic to using strong swear words. She voiced a complaint that others echoed, which was that the principal characters seemed too similar. Although Paula pointed out that they were, in fact, intended to be from similar backgrounds and had known each other since their youth, and therefore would have similar outlooks, the question remained as to whether the diary form was the best way to portray them. New member Martin, who is not a fan of supernatural themes, said he wished he hadn’t read it – for him, the characters had no redeeming features to make a reader care about their fate. He also pointed out that the women characters were too scantily drawn – again, this may reflect the male characters’ outlooks, but it remained a frustration for some in the group.
Anne R, however, was predisposed not to like the book and was surprised – she enjoyed the characters, settings and descriptions, some of which were moving and convincing. She enjoyed some of the moments of dark humour. She found energy in the writing, if not much emotion. For her, the diary form worked. But she found the cast of characters too big and added that “the more Gothic it got, the more I got fed up. I wasn’t frightened and I lost interest.” It was, overall, “too self-conscious” and she felt she could “hear the writer’s brain creaking!”
We wondered whether the doctor’s method of entering other bodies made sense – even though it is a fantasy, as Jill pointed out, it should show some form of logic. Jill found it “predictable” and that she could not engage with the characters. Rose agreed, saying that she found it plodding and that she waited in vain for some female characters with any substance.
Margaret, however, was gripped by the plot and charmed by the writer’s style and found the characters interesting. Like many others, however, she thought the final confession section spoiled the overall work. Paula too felt the novel may have been better if the reader was left with some level of uncertainty about what really happened. For Mike, it was “a good attempt at a modern Gothic novel,” but also felt like “a bit of an exercise.”
Maisie found the first 100 pages, particularly the diary form, an irritation but then got more into the book, losing interest again in the last section. She liked the way the novel dealt with the way people’s choices impact on others. Paula was interested in the question of what desperate measures we may be drawn too if we were certain we were about to die but felt the work would have been better if it had been “more obliquely Gothic.”
New member Gemma wondered whether the author was “trying too hard” – but she will recommend that her students, who are reading Gothic novels, take a look at this one.
Finally, we chatted about what else we’ve been reading. Margaret recommended David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day; Rose recommended Victoria Hislop’s novel about the Spanish Civil War, The Return, which prompted her to read about the history of the period, and Martin suggested Paddy Doyle’s harrowing but uplifting autobiographical work The God Squad. I added my voice to those who were bowled over by Emma Donoghue’s Room.
A lively discussion, so therefore a good choice of book, whatever the overall opinion of it (and I’m not sure there was one)!
Next month: The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and his Friend Marilyn Monroe, by Andrew O’Hagan. Tuesday 1st November, 6.30pm at Doolally’s in Marygate. (NB: Tea/coffee contributions to go up to £2 from next month – but I reckon that chocolate cake is worth it!).


About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

October 2011
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