Gothic Horror is the new black!

quickening Review of  The Quickening By Mari Biella. 

I’d avoided novel when it came into my reading radar previously because I don’t like HORROR (either as a genre or a feature of my life!) Despite a great review from a fellow writer I respect (Dennis Hamley) who raves about it as a psychological thriller (which I can JUST about handle) I never got round to it. Until Mari came into my view commenting on a blog. At that point I put my theory of reciprocity (or just nosiness) to the test. What happens with me is that when I hear/connect or find out something about a writer I rush to read what they’ve written because I have this belief that one way to connect with a writer is by reading their work. And Mari had downloaded one of my books so I thought it only fair to download one of hers. It’s not a cynical review exchange system. But as a writer I’m curious about other writers and if someone has ‘got’ my work then it seems worth while seeking out their work. I know that I rarely find what I want to read from the bestsellers list and so I have to take action myself to FIND work that I want to read.  And one way of doing this is by looking at the work of those who have read my work.  It’s not a cynical ploy on my part, it just seems to be a place to start finding work from.  If I’d hated it of course that would be as far as it went.  I wouldn’t buy and certainly wouldn’t review anything I really didn’t like the look of. I’m long enough in the tooth to have a pretty good idea of what writing appeals to me from a ‘search inside’ facilty.  Nearly 50 years of constant and avid reading will do that for you I guess.  So I looked at The Quickening and decided to give it a go. Time to step outside of the comfort zone. Sometimes that pays dividends if one does it with the right spirit.

And this time it paid off for me. From the very beginning of the novel I felt like I was reading a classic Gothic Horror which is a genre I taught myself to love in my twenties (when not DOING horror made me seem far too uncool amongst my peers!)  And The Quickening is written in a style and language which I found seriously reminiscent (in a good way) of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  I revelled in the language. It was tight and all the way through didn’t slip. It’s not hard to write in the style of the 19th century with any consistency. It’s something I’ve tried and failed. You have to remain so aware of the change of use of language and syntax etc. It’s hard work frankly. But Mari Biella never makes it seem hard. I found myself thinking – if Mary Shelley had written this I wouldn’t be surprised. For those of you who don’t know that Mary Shelley wrote more books than Frankenstein, she did, but she didn’t write ENOUGH books!  And here Biella has filled a gap for me. Something of the quality of Shelley because there’s only so many times I can re-read the originals.

Now, I’m splitting hairs because I know The Quickening is set in the late 19th century not the early 19th century when Shelley was writing. But it’s of a piece. And the late 19th century is a place I’m also very familiar with (and happy in).  I taught ‘classic’ novels at A level for nearly a decade and I’m currently deeply engaged in republishing a lot of 19th century Scottish novels so I’m quite ‘into’ the period.  The fin de siècle obsession with séances and the mysterious and the way rationality and spirituality were the great conflict of the age is absolutely key to this historical period and Biella has taken themes which match to her story perfectly.

I’ll let you into a secret. The way I managed to get into Gothic horror was because I in no way believe in ghosts and I have always been able to give myself the ‘rational’ explanation (which stops the fear factor I don’t like in life) and I lose myself in the psychology of the thing. And Gothic horror allows you to do this –focus on human psychology rather than spirituality  – if you wish. What is so good about The Quickening is that whether you have my approach to these matters – the rational psychologist – or the more emotional, ghost, horror, there are more things in heaven and earth  approach – you’ll find the novel equally engrossing.  Because centrally the story is indeed about the conflict between these two views and you come up with the conclusion that you believe in. I’m sure it has as much to offer those who like the ‘spooky’ in terms of ghost stories of M.R.James and Henry James and Edgar Allan Poe as much as those who prefer their horror more psychologically gothic like Shelley.

All in all, this is a very accomplished novel which has the feel of a modern day classic gothic horror story and believe me, that’s quite something to pull off  – especially for a first novel. I can only applaud Mari Biella for the hard work that must have gone into writing this AND say that when you read it it’s like ice dancing – you don’t see that hard work, you just revel in the moment of the writing.

You can get The Quickening from Amazon HERE

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Cally is part of the Reading Between the Lines Review Collective a group of professional writers committed to writing good reviews about great books!

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About callyphillips
Writer.

3 Responses to Gothic Horror is the new black!

  1. Mari Biella says:

    Thank you so much for the review, Cally, and for your support! I’m glad you enjoyed the novel, and appreciated the rational/spiritual tension therein, as that was one of the key themes I wanted to explore. Thank you again!

  2. Sue Price says:

    I’ve read ‘The Quickening’ too, Cally – possibly inspired by Dennis’s review. I read a lot of ghost stories – love M R James and Le Fanu – and I loved Mari Biella’s book. It’s excellent.

  3. Julia Jones says:

    You are excellent in your preparedness to move outside your comfort zone – and then very persuasive at sharing the reasons why

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