Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

The Castle of Otranto

on December 21, 2011

I don’t normally review my reading group books on here because all the talking about them at the group seems like enough analysis.  However, as it’s likely I won’t be able to make the next meeting (put back to January because of some people’s work constraints towards Christmas, and also as it’s a download, I thought I would say a few things about it.

There was a bit of confusion at reading group over this book and its connection to Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.  What happened was, back in January I made it a resolution to read some gothic literature, because I often get asked if I have when I mention my fondness for Northanger, and actually the closest thing I’ve read to gothic fiction is Wuthering Heights (and does Twilight count?…).  Having just read Northanger again for the Jane Austen challenge (that does not seem like a year ago!) it seemed an appropriate time to try.  Initially I intended to read The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, as this is the one most frequently mentioned in Northanger, but then decided to begin with Otranto as being the first of the genre.  By the time we decided, in September, to read it as a group, I had forgotten all of this rationale and when someone asked if Otranto is the one mentioned in Northanger I said it was.  I realised my mistake later but that was the thought process behind it anyway – it is linked, but only by genre (I’m sure Catherine, will all her fondness for all things gothic, would already have read Otranto before coming to Bath and meeting Isabella, anyway!).

My first response, on starting the audiobook, was to laugh, because it begins by playing part of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bare Mountain.  As a child I was given a cassette of The Valley of Adventure by Enid Blyton (we still have it and it’s one of the girls’ favourites), which begins the same way.  The reader, Peter Joyce, does well to make his voice clear and easily understood, whilst conveying an expression of doom and slight terror in his tone.

I wasn’t very sure what to expect of the story – the way Catherine and Isabella discuss the genre in Northanger Abbey it seems quite frightening and horrifying, and according to the notes on the back of the book one of Walpole’s friends told him his family were afraid to go to bed at night, after reading it.  But then again, that was a long time ago and none of those people, real or imaginary, could be used to the kind of horrors – again, real or imaginary – we’re exposed to via the modern media.  I’m not a horror person at all and will not be persuaded to read or watch anything that could be categorised that way, but I like a good thriller so I’m well used to reading about murder and the like.  Otranto  seemed to me part way between thriller and old fashioned romance, with a bit of fantasy thrown in (headless walking giant suit of armour, anyone?).  I enjoyed listening to it and in fact it seemed to me that it was possibly better that way, being all about the story – the expression of the reader’s voice added so much to the telling.  I was slightly disappointed by the ending, which seemed a little hurried and also rather directionless, but I enjoyed all the revelations of identity and the twists and turns in plot, as well as the vivid characterisation – Manfred, despite being an absolute monster, was definitely my favourite.

I will definitely go on to read more gothic, starting with The Mysteries of Udolpho, but that will be next year now so it will have to be my resolution once again!

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