Tag Archives: frankenstein (shelley)

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…?’

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

56. Dr Forrest descends on the Marlborough Literature Festival: September 24 2011

I’m very pleased to have been invited to Marlborough for its LitFest 2011 in September, the second edition of this Festival chaired by the novelist Mavis Cheek, which has gathered a really splendid line-up this year ranging from Michael Holroyd and David Edgar to Deborah Moggach and Lauren Child, with your humble servant included to offer the audience a taste of the dark stuff…
Details and billing for my event are as below:

Richard T Kelly – The Possessions of Doctor Forrest
Marlborough Town Hall, upper floor Assembly Room
Saturday September 24: 12.30 PM
Introduced by Ben Budd
“Richard’s second novel, The Possessions of Doctor Forrest, draws inspiration from the darker side of Victorian fiction, a genre he will be discussing in Marlborough. As the story progresses, the truth about Forrest seeps into our understanding with increasing menace. Fans of Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Castle of Otranto or even Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, will all find something fascinating here. But it’s definitely a graduation to adult gothic horror. Richard has written and edited several books on film. His highly regarded debut novel Crusaders explored the state of the nation, taking in New Labour, lawless estates and the decline of the Church among its themes.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

49. The Guardian on Forrest: ‘Get ready for a gothic romp in thrall to the past…’

I was extremely glad of a review of Doctor Forrest in the Guardian yesterday, and by the acclaimed novelist Toby Litt, no less. To speak of just one gratifying aspect, quite early on in the write-up Litt makes a comment that reflects or sums up much the greater part of my reason for writing the novel in the first place:

“If you’re looking for a yarn about making a dodgy deal with the devil, a fast-paced pitch-black romp through some familiar spooky locations and situations, you won’t be disappointed.”

Litt goes on to make some very thoughtful and astute comments on the subject of the gothic as a genre, Forrest‘s particular take upon it, and the takes of some other writers of more recent vintage and much more distinguished than I (Angela Carter among them.) I was especially interested to see his comments on the way in which the novel’s various narrators all write “in what you might call a gothically appropriate way… as if [] they are collaborating in creating a stonking old-fashioned yarn.” That suddenly made me wonder what the novel would have been if the narration had been more of a ‘mash-up’: different, for sure, and probably more of an ‘experiment’.
But as with the experience of my first novel Crusaders I am once more brought face to face with my fundamental old-fashioned-ness. If this book is read as ‘an old-fashioned moral treatise on vanity’ I couldn’t really disagree for one minute. But of course it’s as much a matter of style as of theme. For instance Litt notes that the present day setting of Forrest is one ‘where everyone is keeping secret journals – page after page of descriptive prose – and writing letters, and no one is social networking or sending emails or recording their life in a non-anachronistic way.’ And that put me in mind of something someone said about Crusaders, how the novel didn’t seem to have nearly enough of the backdrop of mid-1990s pop culture in it. I should say that with Forrest I did always have it in mind that the entirely epistolary Chapter 21 was an exchange of emails rather than handwritten and posted letters – but I just didn’t feel like presenting it that way on the page. Another bit of private thinking I chose not to share with the reader was that the book is, to my mind, set round about 2007 rather than 2011, which places it just a bit prior to the eruption of Facebook and Twitter.
Nevertheless, I have to be honest and say I’d have had not the slightest idea how to manage the specific tone I had in mind for this novel without a certain purposeful scouring away of The Way We Live Today. Really it’s as I said to Glennis Byron in the interview she kindly ran at the Gothic Imagination site last month: the ‘nineteenth century boy’ is me. Similarly there was – there is – another version of Forrest that ought really to derive its horror from stem cells and gene therapy, or at the very least from full-face transplant. As I told Glennis: “I feel a tad guilty in that the world of hi-tech surgery could easily lend itself to a gothic where the horror is explicitly born of science a la Frankenstein or Jekyll and Hyde. But then I’m one of those heretics who can’t believe in God but is fairly convinced of the Devil…”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

46. The legend of Mary Shelley

With my editor/publisher hat on my head I am returning Miranda Seymour’s greatly praised Mary Shelley to print through Faber Finds. On first publication in 2001 the book was hailed by the FT’s reviewer as “the most dazzling biography of a female writer to have come my way for an entire decade.” And 2011 has already proved to be a year of passionately renewed interest in The Woman Who Wrote Frankenstein – her life, her legend and enigma retain all their powers to enthrall. Danny Boyle’s new staging of Shelley’s most famous novel has been a huge success for the National Theatre (your correspondent wrote on the subject for the Guardian back in February) and the fascination of readers with the ‘tangled lives’ of the circle of Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley has been evinced yet again by the great reception afforded to Daisy Hay’s Young Romantics.
Merely to know that Mary Shelley completed Frankenstein when not quite 19 is to be aware this was no ordinary young woman. But Mary’s exceptionality began with her parentage: her father was the radical novelist/thinker William Godwin, her mother the intrepid proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft who died of septicaemia 12 days after giving birth to her – a grievous inheritance for any child.
Wollstonecraft’s life is rather better known than her writing – partly because the widower Godwin wrote an impassioned memoir of her, including details of her unmarried motherhood and various love affairs which aroused a deal of public disapproval. Mary certainly read her father’s memoir, and her mother’s books, including the famous Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In Mary’s case, how far had the apple fallen from the tree? Well, in describing Wollstonecraft as ‘feminist’ one intends to say above all that she was a model of self-reliance and that her passionate concern was with how the potential of her sex could be freed by education. And young Mary did indeed get the benefit of a good, advanced education, though her father was in other ways an unhelpfully remote figure. Still, it may be that no small part of the appeal to Mary of Godwin’s protégé Percy Bysshe Shelley was the aura Shelley exuded of a readiness to live out the ideals of Mary’s parents.
Of course, the romance of Mary and Shelley proved to be no giddy jaunt, much less a seamless union of minds. Clearly Percy Bysshe offered her good editorial advice in the writing of Frankenstein, the fame of which would enable her to eclipse his literary star for a while. But the fact remains that of Mary’s five pregnancies with Shelley only one child survived into adulthood. Consequently she suffered profound depressions, and came to build up resilient defences against the outside world where she had been so often wounded. In the end she would outlive all the luminaries of the ‘Pisa circle’: a lone mother, Shelley’s flame-keeper, author of many volumes though none to rival her ‘hideous progeny’ Frankenstein. In Mary Shelley we may say there was a sort of ungovernable daring but also, over time and perforce, a driving need for social ‘respectability’. And these dual forces are twinned to a degree in her work.
Speaking of dual forces: I just noticed this remarkable ‘trailer’ for the National Theatre’s Frankenstein, which makes simple but stunning use of the twinned casting of Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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…

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized