Monday 11 February 2013

NaNoReMo update

At the end of January, I announced that I'd be reading Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto for NaNoReMo. I'd chosen it due to its privileged position within the canon of Gothic literature, and because many of its themes and motifs appear in later novels, and by extension, within the gothic mode of filmmaking.

It's not a long book - my copy is only 115 pages long - and I can only thank my lucky stars for that. I'm already about a third of the way through but it has not been a pleasure to get even that far. I know that storytelling has changed an awful lot in the 249 years since it was published but the novel feels more like a documentary than a work of fiction. Walpole almost exclusively 'tells' the story, rigorously ignoring any opportunities to 'show' what's going on, and the characters are almost entirely devoid of any depth.

In the story so far, the Prince of Otranto, a fairly odious and one-dimensional man named Manfred, has been anticipating the forthcoming wedding of his son, Conrad, to a princess named Isabella. Manfred is desperate to continue the family line to avoid a fatal prophecy, but before the marriage can take place, a giant helmet falls from the sky (yeah...what?!) and crushes Conrad. Manfred then decides to divorce his wife, Hippolita (a simpering woman continually described as being a paragon of virtue, who is so weak and pathetic you just want to slap her) in order to marry Isabella himself and thus produce more heirs. Isabella is having none of it, and escapes to a nearby convent through a rather convenient subterranean passage. All of this takes place within chapter one, and it's difficult to care what's going on when so much content is crammed into the story before you even know who anyone is.

It takes a lot for me to abandon a book, and I'd quite happily set this aside if a) it wasn't such a seminal text, meaning I feel like I have to read it, and b) it wasn't so short. I'm pretty sure I can whizz through the rest of it before the end of the month, and if I do...well I'll be switching to Edgar Allen Poe instead...


John Wiswell said...

It's not as though Poe doesn't have quality work waiting for you. On Twitter it seemed you thought Walpole made "telling" work - did the charm simply run out?

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