Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of The Quickening, a gothic Victorian ghost story by Mari Biella which I finished reading yesterday morning.
Characters: This moody tale is narrated by 33-year-old Lawrence Fairweather, botanist and man of means. He tells the story of his struggle to save his wife, Julia, from a descent into madness, and to try to save himself and his six-year-old daughter from being dragged down in its wake.
Mari does a nice job with Fairweather.
…I was one of those gentle, shiftless men who neither have nor seek an occupation. I had been blessed with a modest inheritance, after all, and had as a result never needed to take paid employment. I lived in my childhood home, partly as a result of genuine attachment and partly because my indolence was such that the prospect of moving to a new house, with all the anxiety and inconvenience that that would entail, was distasteful to me. My ambitions were few, and my way of life modest; and I had a wife, and a child of six years, a daughter.
Other principals, equally well described, include Fairweather’s dependable friend, Devonald, a country doctor; and the family’s housekeeper, the sturdy Mrs. Jessop.
Plot: Bleak, brooding, remote Halfway House in England exerts a malign influence on Fairweather and his family following a tragedy. Pragmatic botanist Fairweather doesn’t believe in hauntings, yet the unexplained continues to occur with frightening consequences.
Setting: Most of the drama occurs in the Fairweather’s family home Halfway House, so called because of its midway location along a lonely road.
The attention Mari lavishes on this location make it almost a character.
It was a squat brick building, austere in appearance and rough in construction, and though it was neither very old nor very neglected, an air of subtle abandonment and decay seemed to saturate its walls. Its very simplicity might, in another setting, have conjured an atmosphere of homely ease; but such an effect could hardly be achieved in this bleak place, where the house must stand, stark and defiant, against the elements, with neither a hillock nor a copse nor the comforting proximity of other buildings to offer shelter. Its walls corresponded roughly with the main points of the compass, and upon each of these it would be buffeted and pummelled by every wind that blew.
The countryside surrounding the house gets the same wonderful treatment:
This was unutterably bleak terrain. Few trees grew here, but those that had managed to cling to life seemed dejected, having been bent by the relentless wind until they leaned in a common direction. They wore an almost human aspect, those trees: the defeated stance of people grown old too soon, and as a result of rough treatment rather than time. It had rained all day and showed no sign of stopping yet.
I’m a fan of settings. In my opinion, they orient readers in the story, and help the writer with mood and foreshadowing. And in many cases, like this one, they’re just interesting.
What I thought could’ve been done better: I have so little for this section. There’s just not much, that I could see, that could be improved.
I found what I think is a typo: “It is so very see to have you here.” Maybe “see” should be “nice?”
There’s a minor touch of wordiness here and there — “I went to stand by the window…” might better be “I stood by the window…” but Victorians did have a tendency to wordiness. And even trivial examples like that occur rarely in Marie’s narrative.
I would’ve liked to have seen more psychic phenomena in the book, but I can’t say that’s something “that could’ve been done better.” That’s just my own personal preference for ghost stories.
Perhaps a case could be made that the central plot device of the haunting is too slow getting out of the gate. Mari certainly does take her time, but the set-up itself is so wonderfully done and works so well that I don’t think it’s a problem.
Mari has done a masterful job with this story, and I hate to admit it, but I just didn’t see how the book could’ve been improved — other than that one typo.
What I thought was good: The Quickening took me right back to the Victorian ghost stories I read wide-eyed as a little boy, and that helped kindle my own interest in writing as I tried to recreate them.
It was true to its roots and got me from its very first words:
You wish to hear my story, you say.
Be warned: it is a hellish one. It is no less hellish for the fact that it contains no grisly murders, no great effusions of blood, and no childish monsters or moustache-twirling villains. Things such as these are for the most part the stuff of melodrama, and are far more common on the stage than in real life.
Reality is more subtle, I have found, and far less simple; but it is no less terrible for that.
Mine is a story of mystery, and of misunderstandings, and of good intentions that went miserably astray. It is a story of death, too, and of whatever might follow bodily death: and that, perhaps, is the greatest and most troubling mystery of all.
And of all the hellish things about my story, the worst is perhaps this: that I could have prevented it.
Mari’s story, while rendered with Victorian restraint is still active-voice and verb-oriented.
There was little to see, of course, in the darkness, but I could hear the wind rolling across the level, open land, and hurling itself upon the house as the only obstacle that stood in its way – a brutal, bitter wind that tore down from Russia and Scandinavia, and lashed the walls until they seemed to shake.
She makes good use of similes and other literary devices.
My mouth suddenly felt as dry as dead leaves, and my breath sounded as rapid and harsh as a piston in the hushed room.
But it’s the unrelieved emotional journey into the depths of misery and fear, taken slowly, deliberately, irrevocably that I liked most. The mood begins gray and mysterious, and gradually gets ever darker and more desperate.
Overall: Is this a story of minds disordered by tragedy, spiraling down to madness? Is it a story of paranormal activity unhinging the gates of reason? Both? It doesn’t matter. In The Quickening, Mari demonstrates high mastery of mood and craft. She spins a truly spooky tale filled with dread, balancing on the edge of horror; a tale that will stay with me for a long time.
Good job Mari!
And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!