Stick with Dracula

50048113Title: The Beetle
Author: Richard Marsh
Genre: Victorian Era Horror
Pages: 335
Rating: 2 of 5

The Beetle was published the same year as Dracula and originally outsold it. Having read it, I’m not surprised that Stoker’s masterpiece has endured while this tale of an ambiguously-gendered Egyptian were-beetle seeking revenge on a British MP fell by the wayside.

The book starts out strong with some truly creepy moments involving human misery and supernatural compulsion. Unfortunately, the story became increasingly less interesting as we detour into a Victorian love triangle (or possibly pentagon) complete with a disapproving parent and wealthy spinster. One of our narrators at this point is a mad scientist who talks a bit like Bertie Wooster but whose mad science ends up playing no significant part in the plot (such a waste!).

The author never managed to recover the creepiness of the first quarter of the book. Once the supernatural stuff really picks up again, there’s the usual product-of-its-era casual xenophobia, sexism, etc., an uninspired telegraphing/dashing around trying to find the damsel in distress chase sequence, and a ridiculously abrupt ending.

I was ready to give this 3 stars as passable product-of-its-era Gothic horror if the author could land the ending, but it was so bad that it brought down the entire book. It feels like he couldn’t decide how to end it, got bored with writing, and covered it all up with a couple dei ex machina and a liberal dose of “it was too horrible for words.” Weird/horror stories don’t need to give the reader all the answers, but this ending was a complete cop out. Stick with Dracula!

Wry Humor & Maudlin Sentimentality

Idle thoughtsTitle: Idle Thoughts of and Idle Fellow
Author: Jerome K. Jerome
Genre: Classic Humor
Pages: 210
Rating: 4 of 5

This collection of humorous essays by the author Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) is entertaining right from the get-go as he dedicates the book to his pipe. As he covers topics like clothing, food and drink, babies, pets, and (of course) idleness, he occasionally flirts with trying to sound cynical and “wicked” like Oscar Wilde but mostly he swings back and forth between wry humor and Victorian maudlin sentimentality and ends up sounding like a real-life Bertie Wooster. As with Three Men in a Boat, it’s hard to tell whether the sentimental bits are intended seriously or sarcastically… perhaps a bit of both.

While not quite as funny as Three Men in a Boat, it is well worth reading for fans of wry humor. I had the added joy of reading it in the old copy pictured here that I got from my wife’s Grandfather. I’m not sure how old it is, but the gift inscription in it is from Christmas 1896.

Also, I’m using this for my 19th Century Classic category at the Back to the Classics Challenge.