‘The Monk’ by Matthew Lewis

If you are one of those people who think that so-called ‘classic literature’ is boring, then The Monk is the book that will change your mind. Extraordinarily controversial when it was originally published in 1796, this sensational account of moral decline and depravity has lost none of its power to shock and appal.

It’s bonkers, this book. A kaleidoscopic, schizophrenic, rollercoaster-ride of a novel, with twists and turns, and sex and death, and angels and demons, and mad monks and bloody nuns. There’s also incest, rape, and a dead baby, so it is profoundly not for the faint hearted. Those of you who know me, or who follow this blog regularly and have picked up on my general leaning towards the gothic, will be unsurprised to hear that I absolutely loved it. It is completely gripping, full of surprises, and – another favourite theme of mine – reflects intelligently (and somewhat subtextually) upon the nature of story-telling. The novel is filled with different kinds of story; long sections in which characters relate episodes from their past lives to each other, references to myth and legend, whole songs and poems transcribed into the text. The novel demonstrates the interrelatedness of stories; how one inevitably leads to another, and how all stories – and by extension all people – are inherently connected. If you’re a fellow fan of the gothic, and you haven’t read this yet, please do so immediately.

Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis

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