Kelly describes writing The Possessions of Dr Forrest as a gesture of love to the gothic novel and to Stevenson in particular. Thus his novel preserves many of the characteristics of the original: the London setting, the structure and narrative style. He uses diaries and letters though not email. I’m a traditionalist, he said, in the sense that I still punctuate my text messages! His narrators are mostly male. 1 detective, 3 doctors (albeit with different specialisms). In keeping with the intensification of 21st-century angst, all 3 doctors are in crisis. Professional respectability and success is no guarantor of personal happiness. Ironically it is the psychiatrist Dr Hartford who is suffering the most.
“My profession long ago dispensed with Satan, of course, but initially advanced no further than to the notion that madness thrived in the sufferer’s blood, and could be drawn out by a sensible application of leeches. What are the fruits of wisdom that centuries of enquiry now bestow upon me? “Get some drugs into this man! Dampen down those symptoms!””
Psychiatry may have dispensed with the devil but this novel isn’t so adamant. Torment comes in many forms and most of it – in the pre-confessional sections of the novel certainly – emanates from females. The balance is redressed – somewhat- by the male-induced problems of Eloise – Dr Hartford’s patient and the sole female narrator. The greatest destruction, however, is the crazed ambition of Dr Forrest.
His disappearance right at the very beginning of the novel starts a downward spiral that eventually sucks in everyone. We can see this happening, even if the characters can’t but it’s not until Dr Forrest’s confessions that we understand the absolute diabolical nature of his actions. Never likeable, even when viewed through the sympathetic eyes of his friends in prior sections, he transforms through his own words into the most loathsome and contemptible creature I’ve ever read. Just how low can you go? Think about it and I’ll wager Forrest goes lower. Jekyll and Hyde? Jekyll and Hyder, more like.
I’m happy to report that I saw no Dr Forrest in the author (at least not at the festival). And I don’t believe that it was a mask. Kelly is such a genial character. Happy to chat on twitter (@RichTKelly) I love his dry, sardonic wit. On surgeons: The sense of their own prowess is so high, they are happy to have observers see the genius in their own hands. At the signing I had to ask how writing this darker than dark novel affected his head. Well, he said, my wife was very glad when I was finished. She wanted it out of the house!
You have been warned.
Tag Archives: edinburgh international book festival
“In our second podcast from the Edinburgh international book festival, we delve into the city’s dark underbelly… and what state gothic literature is in in the 21st century… Richard T Kelly and Kevin MacNeil talk about the different ways in which [R.L.] Stevenson’s classic [Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde] influenced their new novels, and… Louise Welsh, whose work is rooted in Scotland’s murkier side, takes Xan Brooks on a gothic tour of Edinburgh, including the Surgeon’s Hall Museums and the catacombs beneath the city where legend has it plague victims were walled up.”
This succinct interview with me is from The List (Issue 686, 9 August 2011), and was written up by Brian Donaldson:
Give us five words to describe The Possessions of Doctor Forrest
The ones I’d borrow from reviews would be ‘gothic’, ‘gripping’, ‘spine chilling’ and ‘seductive’.
Which author should be more famous than they are now?
James Lasdun has a fine reputation, but everyone ought to read his superb stories in the 2009 collection It’s Beginning To Hurt. Lasdun has a masterly way of leading his characters from innocence to experience, and his prose shines (and cuts) like a diamond.
What do you love about book festivals?
Meeting and talking to readers; that’s what book festivals are all about, a refreshing antidote to what writers spend the rest of their time doing …
What was the last book you read?
The Unsettled Dust by Robert Aickman, one of the finest writers of the supernatural. Without fuss, Aickman’s stories conjure a recognisable world that feels wholly foursquare; until you realise that the narrative has been built as a cage, a personal hell, and the protagonist is walking toward death as if in a dream.
Which dead author do you wish was still alive today?
To speak of a writer who went before his time: Gordon Burn was a superb stylist, a keenly questing mind, and a true northerner, who brought real artistry to bear on raw (sometimes terrifying) true-life subject matter, be it politics or poverty, football or serial murder. Whenever there’s a controversial story in the news now, I always think, ‘What would Gordon have made of this?’
13 Aug (with Kevin MacNeil), 10.15am, £10 (£8).
The event is billed as follows:
Richard T Kelly & Kevin MacNeil: THIS IS 21ST CENTURY GOTHIC
Saturday 13 August 10:15am – 11:15am Spiegeltent (£10.00, £8.00)
If gothic fiction is usually associated with the 19th century, then two British authors have brought the genre bang up to date. Richard T Kelly’s novel The Possessions of Doctor Forrest and Kevin MacNeil’s A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde use the classic gothic rejection of rationality to craft contemporary stories that are paranoid, deliciously dark, sometimes erotically charged and often downright terrifying.
So. Maybe I’ll see you…? I anticipate a happy return to EIBF for me as I was very pleased to be invited up there with Crusaders in 2008. Previously I’d not been in Edinburgh at Festival time since 2001, the last of four years I served as a consultant to the Film Festival – also Lizzie Francke’s last as Artistic Director, and the year when Sean Penn came to town, which was certainly the start of something special for me…
Previous to that? I’d tried out the whole Edinburgh thing in a few different categories. I was an invitee to the Young Programme-Makers sidebar of the Television Festival in 1996 (a fairly ghastly experience for various reasons). Further back, in 1993, I directed a stage production of David Mamet’s Edmond on the Fringe, with a team of young performers from Bristol University far more talented in that field than myself (among them Neil Cole, Claire Wille and Samantha LeMole, to speak only of those whom I know to have carried on performing.)
And then more recently, the 30-minute film I wrote for Channel 4’s Coming Up strand entitled Jennifer (but otherwise known as Eclipse) played at the Film Festival in 2010.
So, looking back, all in all I will be able to say that at least I gave it a go, didn’t I missus…?