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70. Durham Reads ‘Doctor Forrest’, with Diverse & Fascinating Opinions…

Last week I had the pleasure of taking Doctor Forrest to the Durham Book Festival, this after 7 weeks’ worth of the novel being widely and freely distributed around the county as part of the Festival’s first ever ‘big read’ initiative. My author event at the Gala Theatre last Tuesday night was a delight for me on umpteen counts, maybe chief among them that I was joined onstage by a trio of excellent actors who got on their feet and performed some choice filleted passages from Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and The Monk, interspersed with my own (thematically complementary) readings from Doctor Forrest. The chairman of the conversation was the excellent Dr Simon James of Durham University, some of whose students were in the audience and who are all, clearly, relishing the Gothic module of their Literature degree. And most of the rest of the house was comprised of people who had read the novel as part of their regular book groups, thanks to the Festival’s giveaway munificence, and who were kind enough to make the trek to Durham so as to hear what I had to say for myself.
Feedback from those reading groups was regularly relayed back to me over the seven weeks of the ‘Durham Reads’ countywide project, and the comments certainly made for a valuable and thought-provoking mix. I can gather them broadly if partially under the following headings:

SOME CUSTOMERS WERE FULLY SATISFIED

‘This novel is intelligent and interesting with well-drawn characters – intriguing storyline that draws the reader to the end.’
‘Found this novel very fascinating and would read other gothic inspired novels by this author.’
‘Enjoyed it. Shades of Dorian Gray…’
‘Echoes of Jekyll & Hyde, a fascinating exploration of the gothic genre.’
‘Liked the diary format & Confession at the end a little like Frankenstein’s Monster.’
‘Weird, wonderful and very enjoyable.’
‘Loved the book. My suspicions on ‘whodunnit’ crept in on page 73.’
‘Read this on holiday and really enjoyed it.’
‘My favourite character was Dr. Forrest – power crazy!’
‘I think R.T Kelly would be a very good crime novelist.’
‘Brutality of the medical language added greatly to the genre.’
‘Very successful plot. I didn’t guess what was happening until the Confession.’
‘If you enjoy a good mystery it is worth taking time to read this one.’

SOME WARMED UP TO IT

‘I enjoyed it from part IV…’
‘Once I was past first 5-6 chapters it gripped my interest. I was hooked on finding out what happened.’
‘Style initially off-putting, but once into the story plot enthralling.’

SOME FOUND IT TOO DARK

‘Enjoyed the first three quarters of the book but found the end unsettling.’
‘The consequences of the last part were evil and menacing – I was glad to finish it.’
‘Dark and depressing. I stopped reading at Page 273…’
‘Shocking and disturbing story.’
‘I found it rather horrid…’

SOME FOUND THE PROSE TOO FUSSY

‘The Victorian style of writing and the modern setting seemed to conflict with each other at times.’
‘Style of writing irritating… Not so much Poe, or Wilde as Alistair Crowley!’
‘Words used archaic and not used in this present day.’
‘There was too much punctuation!’

SOME FOUND IT HARD TO FOLLOW

‘Parts 1 & 2 interesting, Part 3 left me so confused I gave up.’
‘The narrative is good but i don’t think i ever cottoned on to what happened to Dr. Forrest.’
‘Confusion amongst the group as to whether or not he murdered his victims.’
‘No suspense or creeping horror, he took over too many people.’

SOME THOUGHT IT ALTOGETHER TOO FANCIFUL

‘I tried very hard and did read the whole of the book, but could not come to terms with the story, demons and strange goings-on.’
‘Beautifully written, easy to read, shame the story was pure rubbish.’
‘Was none the wiser at the end of the story, very far-fetched.’
‘Better than I expected. Content ridiculous. Not convincing.’

SOME FOUND UNEXPECTED THINGS TO COMMEND…

‘Disturbing, disappointing, but the cover art was great.’
‘Nice clear print.’

SOME WERE UNLIKELY TO FIND ANYTHING TO COMMEND

‘Cover of book makes me think its going to be weird. Is this horror?’

AND AT LEAST ONE READER HAD ME BANG TO RIGHTS

‘Does anyone else think author used old ideas from previous books…?’

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58. ‘Beguiling… dark, troubling… deliciously sly’: Doctor Forrest reviewed in City A.M.

A lovely write-up here by Jonathan Hourigan (scroll down a bit):

Richard T Kelly has followed his first novel, the chunky – in both its size and ambition – Crusaders, with a beguiling, Gothic-inflected thriller.
At the heart of the narrative are three Edinburgh childhood friends, now respected middle-aged doctors living in London. When hard-living but deeply-troubled cosmetic surgeon Robert Forrest – his own once good looks now fading – goes missing his friends, psychiatrist Steve Hartford and paediatric surgeon Grey Lochran, are gradually drawn into their own investigations, a web of deceit, menace and fatality.
For much of its duration the novel inhabits the points of view of Hartford and Lochran, illuminating middle-aged male anxieties with psychological acuity and lightness of touch, as well as driving Kelly’s deliciously sly thriller onwards. When point of view switches to that of Doctor Forrest himself – and we have never really believed him dead and are dying to hear from him – all Hell breaks loose. It’s an audacious shift of tone and largely successful, prompting the reinterpretation of much that has gone before and clarifying the novel’s thematic purposes.
This is a confident and bold novel about death, the desire for immortality, vanity and much besides. Its moral references as well as its form – letters, diaries, interviews and reports from a variety of points of view – are those of nineteenth century Gothic fiction. Doctors Frankenstein and Jekyll, Mr Hyde, Dorian Gray and Count Dracula all have a place in this dark, troubling, uncertain but finally, intensely human universe.
Jonathan Hourigan

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50. EMusings blog: ‘The Possessions of Dr Forrest has a hold on me…’

Another really pleasing response to Doctor Forrest from the blogosphere, namely at eMusing which is the web home of Emma Keens. Though June was a busy month in the publishing calendar Forrest was clearly brought out at just the right moment for Emma, since she writes of having been engaged in ‘a bit of a one-woman gothic horror revival for a few months now.’ Her write-up is full of informed and spot-on observations in relation to the gothic classics that influenced this book, and she expresses an admirably finessing sense of the genre’s more intricate details, to wit:

‘The story… certainly contains all the familiar ingredients of good gothic horror. A sense of the supernatural mixes with the corporeal, good intentions bristle with forbidden desire. Ghostly apparitions and half-recalled memories are portents of both good and evil. Buildings and nature (and even people) are imposing, alluring and yet tinged with the slightest hint of decay.’

On a stylistic level Emma also makes her criticisms deftly, and I must hold up my hands on the counts of ‘using five words when [I] could have used one’ and the copious ‘references to foreign language texts.’ I was also really intrigued by her comment that ‘[i]t would have been wonderful to have ended the third party narration perhaps a bit earlier, so that Dr Forrest’s confessions could be the first telling of some of the events that ended the story.’ I did consider this option in the writing, albeit not for long, or long enough? It had a clear appeal, most particularly as I tried to envisage matters from the reader’s POV. But… I just couldn’t see a way by that means to sustain the sort of tension and unfolding I had in mind. And so I went for that tried and trusted trick of introducing Forrest’s voice right up at the front of the novel – the Enigmatic Italicised Prologue – and then reserving him entirely for the back-end of proceedings.
At any rate it’s great to have one’s thoughts provoked in this way by a reader’s response, and it’s what I love in general about the sort of unchained ‘musings’, notes and queries that a really good book-blogger can offer – truly an educational opportunity for the author. Of course, I fully concede, this is all contingent on said blogger having a basically positive view of one’s book… And since Emma signs off by testifying that ‘the book had me gripped right until the last page’ and that she’s looking forward to the movie version, I’m obviously very happy in that regard – but grateful to her in any case for having taken the time to write up the book at length and invite other online readers to discuss.

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43. “Richard T Kelly’s Top Five in Horror” (From Amazon’s Kindle Post UK)

From the Klimowski / Schejbal illustrated Jekyll & Hyde

The other day I made a contribution to Amazon’s Kindle blog: a list of what is billed as ‘definitive spine-chilling moments in [my] top five favourite novels of Victorian/gothic mystery and horror.’ And that describes it fairly enough. With a bit more space at my disposal I might have thrown in the self-unmasking of Matilda to Ambrosio in The Monk, or the gruesome corpse-disposal ordered by Wilde’s anti-hero in The Picture of Dorian Gray, or just something of the flavour of Laura’s descriptions of Carmilla in Sheridan Le Fanu’s tale… But, no, I went with what I went with. And of course I could have made multiple selections from said titles. (No Renfield? Alas…) Anyhow, the works I discuss are these, and in this order – their names will not surprise you:
5. Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (1860)
4. HG Wells, The Invisible Man (1897)
3. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)
2. Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897)
1. Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
The ‘moments’ I chose are here but, reader, believe me, I would fain know what are your own…

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39. To Hammer Horror, With Love

There’s something that gladdens the heart – or, if you like, sets rich red blood coursing through one’s quivering veins – to note the recent resurrection of the Hammer Films brand. I doubt I’ve sat and re-watched a vintage Hammer production since I was a boy; but back then, oh for sure, they were a notable source of rather exquisite chills – my awareness of the Hammer name helped in no small part by the then-running ITV series Hammer House of Horror, which was vividly gruesome, occasionally racy, and always a talk-about show in the school playground (at least for those kids who could get round their parents’ viewing strictures to that degree.)
The love shown toward old Hammer productions tends to be more of this nostalgic/genre-based fondness than high-minded critical acclaim (though there’s been a fair bit said in favour of such 1960s entries as The Gorgon and Quatermass and the Pit.) But let’s not be too picky. For me the most vivid, memorable Hammers are those of the early 1970s, when the studio was generally reckoned to be trying to add ‘adult’, gory and risqué flavours from American and European film into their usual stew. Hence the unabashed come-on elements of the trilogy of films fashioned from Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla: the first being The Vampire Lovers (1970), shameless in a way, yet a deathless testament to the presence of the late Ingrid Pitt, whose life story was eminently more extraordinary than any supernatural tale. Lust for a Vampire (1971) was more brazen yet, and the poorer without Pitt, but I think you have to say there is something weirdly compelling about the extraordinary Masoch-istic zeal of Ralph Bates in this clip. Hammer had quite a knack, I think, for making their female villains into half-plaintive, half-scarily-regnant figures, as with the Amazonian Valerie Leon in the Bram Stoker-derived Bloody From The Mummy’s Tomb (1971.)
Vampire Circus (1972) was another lively twist on the vampire legend, which I remember as really strange and bold, not least in its extravagant menacing of little children. Brian Clemens, he of TV’s The Avengers and The Professionals, contributed two half-successful Hammers. First, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), a ‘transgendering’ of Stevenson that is stylish in places but mainly, like so many films of that book, bogged down by Jack-the-Ripper-like murders. And then Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter (1974), a spookily atmospheric oddity that, I understand, is due a remake. I’m not sure how well the filming of Dennis Wheatley’s To the Devil a Daughter (1975) would stand up now; but I will think of it fondly as the picture that introduced Nastassja Kinski to English-language cinema.
And then shall we speak of the Count? I’ve half a notion that the first in the long stream of Hammer Draculas I actually saw was The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), in which Christopher Lee lurks in the shadows of contemporary London, a reclusive property developer plotting to destroy the global population by means of a lethal virus. Perhaps I owe to this movie (to these credits) the spark of my interest in dragging the gothic right up to date in a London setting…? This clip, for all that the blocking and timing are laboured, has a nice feel and reminds one why Lee made such a commanding Count, however much he came to disdain the role.
But I daresay in critical terms the quintessential Hammer will always be their first Dracula (1958) by Terence Fisher, not least because Martin Scorsese has been such an outspoken fan of its rich reds and blacks. By the time of its fiftieth anniversary it was sufficiently august for the BFI to re-release it, and construct this splendid trailer that puts an elegant frame around its enduring – undead – charms.

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26. YouTube trailer for The Possessions of Doctor Forrest


(Connoisseurs of the North London Gothic may care to know that the scenic element of this clip in which I read from and discuss the themes of The Possessions of Dr Forrest was shot in the grounds of Abney Park Cemetary, Stoke Newington.)

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18. The Terror of the Invisible Man

More than once in recent months I’ve had to chide some person of ostensibly good literary credentials for never having read Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – for ‘knowing’ the work, in other words, only through its umpteen film/TV adaptations, not one of which bears anything but a superficial resemblance to the imperishable source text. Good for me, you might say, and yet when I think of all the books I haven’t yet got round to I do turn silent awhile… H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man isn’t a work I ever placed in the upper echelons of my list of the Great Unread, still I’m rather surprised by myself in admitting that I only tackled it late last year. Here, too, is a work rather obscured by the cinema screen, but probably more faithfully served by same. Moreover, first published in 1897, Wells’ novel is of the same vintage as Stoker’s Dracula, and very nearly as iconic.
There are two aspects of the tale that chime with some of my deepest delights in the gothic. The first is the slow build of the narrative, the gathering of mystery around the Invisible Man and his ‘presence’ in an English village, until such time as this villain – Griffin, a young scientist – seeks the company of his old university associate Dr Kemp and confesses the tale of his depravity. The second is that Griffin’s account of his dastardly experiments finds him placed at great disadvantage on account of his own villainy – he’s a malefactor on his uppers – and we get a very physical impression of how hard it would be to live as an invisible sort of a fellow. (Stevenson’s Jekyll is, of course, similarly superb on the subject on all the practical difficulties his double life as Hyde forces upon him. And – though he is an essentially sympathetic figure- the creature in Frankenstein grips us all the more on account of how plaintively he describes his shunned and isolated life in the wild.)
Finally, one more attribute of The Invisible Man that is purely pleasurable – this, an extract from the ‘strange missive, written in pencil on a greasy sheet of paper’ that Griffin sends to Dr Kemp after he has realised that the doctor means to thwart his evil intentions:

“You have been amazingly energetic and clever,” this letter ran, “though what you stand to gain by it I cannot imagine. You are against me. For a whole day you have chased me; you have tried to rob me of a night’s rest. But I have had food in spite of you, I have slept in spite of you, and the game is only beginning. The game is only beginning. There is nothing for it, but to start the Terror. This announces the first day of the Terror. Port Burdock is no longer under the Queen, tell your Colonel of Police, and the rest of them; it is under me—the Terror! This is day one of year one of the new epoch—the Epoch of the Invisible Man. I am Invisible Man the First…”

Of course, in James Whale’s celebrated 1933 film of Wells the great Claude Rains did an absolutely first-rate job of evoking that hooting, vainglorious lunacy.

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