A week in books
Boyd Tonkin is Senior Writer and a columnist at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Literary Editor at The Independent, and before that Social Policy Editor and then Books Editor at the New Statesman magazine. He has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes and has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize. In 2001, he re-founded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for literature in translation, and serves on its judging panel every year.
Saturday 03 January 1998
It's pointless to speak of a Gothic "revival" in our culture for the simple reason that the ghoulish genre never goes away. Gothic parodies have drawn squawks of recognition for the 200 years that separate Northanger Abbey from Addams Family Values. You could argue that the original Gothic - of gloom and ghosts and curses - can only now exist as spoof or irony, while the essence of the business dons another guise to reappear (for example) in a show like The X Files.
So it's hard to know how earnestly to treat Penguin's New Year stunt. Night Thoughts is a pounds 2.99 anthology of nocturnal ruminations culled from the Classics list, and adorned with a fetching lamplit still-life-with- a-skull. Just the thing for that teenage Austen heroine, then or now, to tote around the smart dives of Bath. The book amounts to an exercise in Gothic editing rather than a Gothic anthology per se, as it skips most of the 19th-century prose landmarks (Mary Shelley, Poe, Stoker, Stevenson). Instead, the great Metaphysical poets, tenebrous Jacobeans, and Romantic gloomyguts all contribute passages of sombre night-time cogitation. This looks more like an accoutrement for the flour-faced, gore-lipped, raven- locked Goth lifestyle (and a break from those Anne Rice novels) than a coherent package.
According to some critics, most of today's popular culture can fall under the enveloping shroud of a "Gothic" rubric. For a witty, lucid but fanciful essay in this vein, read Mark Edmundson's Nightmare on Main Street (Harvard University Press, pounds 15.50). To Edmundson, Gothic visitations from the buried powers of desire and destruction underpin not just the obvious works - Alfred Hitchcock or Stephen King - but phenomena that stretch from the daytime talk-show (with its victims "haunted" by past loves, abuse or addiction) to the O J Simpson trial. (Simpson has, or is, a doppelganger, and the courts did indeed split persecuted O J Jekyll from "responsible" O J Hyde).
This is fascinating, smartly-written stuff, but you begin to suspect that when one hold-all concept can explain almost everything a bit, it ceases to explain anything very well. Besides, I can't really see dear Oprah as a bloodsucking Gothic harpie, "an apostle of fate worthy of Edgar Allan Poe". Now, Vanessa Feltz...
Life & Style blogs
Dating site hack reveals sexual secrets of 4 million users
Crystal meth addict 'gouged out his eyes and ate them' while high on drug, Australian MP claims
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?
New Zealand 'the best country to work as a prostitute', says sex worker advocacy group
What do the emoji on Snapchat mean?
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
Report finds that Britain's wages are the most unequal in Europe
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland
- 1 Crystal meth addict 'gouged out his eyes and ate them' while high on drug, Australian MP claims
- 2 As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
- 3 The ten most unequal developed countries in the world
- 4 Saudi Arabia 'seeking to head United Nations Human Rights Council'
- 5 Toddler throws a tantrum at the White House – in front of Barack Obama
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