Reading is contextual, right? We all have times when we read, the ways we read, on the bus, before bed, in that weird moment of quiet in the afternoon when the boy is playing Bakugans and not entreating me to play with him, for once. (Okay, that last one's a little specific to me.) That external stuff gets internalized a bit, becomes part of the narrative, gives stage to the language and the way it sounds.
So for this book the context was hanging in my mother's house while she was whacked out on pain killers after a super gnarly surgery to repair her busted leg. The context was scary and horrible and boring, all at once, and it was fucking perfect. Maybe being uneasy and helpless is the best way to read gothic fiction.
Sometimes, I'm not so sure about gothic fiction. The whole Mysteries of Udolpho thing makes me itch all over my body. I hate it. I hate all the bookending, the silly settings, the endless epistolary goings-on. I immediately think of Miss Austen's Northanger Abbey, and what short work she makes of gothic, and I think, "Why aren't I reading that?"
This book has all that: the bookending, the silly settings. I mean a castle in Czeckotransistan? a dungeon with (boogity-boogity) skeletons? a mad duchess? really? But it totally works. There's this thin edge of humor, so faint you almost miss it, wending its way through the story, and I felt like it made the tale. (Oh, good, why did the sirens stop on my block? Does that sounds like a firetruck to you? Sometimes I hate my neighborhood. This has nothing to do with the review, btw.)
Oh, and if I can get linguistically wonkish for a minute, there's a moment in there, when the narrator changes tenses, changes point of view, and several things come together. The language shift is part of the shift in the mind, and it burned my eyes with its beauty. It was masterful. It created white space in my brain. Maybe I need to lay off the wine.
Anyway, the reason I haven't given this book that final star is because of the coda. Endings are tricky, and while I'm not sure it was bad, I'm not convinced it was perfect. But it's a solid book, and worthy of a read when you're scared and trapped.