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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Book Review: A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe

A Sicilian Romance has a typically twisted Gothic plot which I'll attempt to summarise without giving the end away. Emilia and Julia Mazzini lost their mother at a young age. Their father remarried to a young woman and lived away from the family castle with their brother Ferdinand. The girls are joined in their lonely life by their mother's faithful friend, Madame de Menon. Things change when the Marquis and his young wife come back to the castle. Julia is promised by her father to the ageing Duke de Luovo but has fallen in love with a friend of her brother's, Hippolitus. They plot to elope but the plan doesn't go smoothly...

This is an extremely atmospheric novel, playing on the spectres of an ancient castle and using the surrounding area - woodland, caves, secret underground passages - to great effect. It is also well-plotted with the end tying up all the loose ends completely and explaining all the mysteries put forward throughout. I have to say that certain events surprised me as I progressed and I simply enjoyed the twists and turns without trying to second guess everything.

On the characterisation side, the characters were a little under-explored for my liking, taking a back seat to the complex plot but I expected that. I also felt characters were forgotten for long periods, particularly poor Emilia. Her experience of living at the castle after her sister has fled could have been a novel in its own right.

Some of the most potent scenes in A Sicilian Romance come from truly terrifying incidents. For instance, Ferdinand, languishing in the dungeon, hears screaming from another quarter of the castle. Another example is when Julia and Hippolitus find themselves in one of the most gruesome rooms imaginable. That scene alone is enough to make this book stand out but there are many others of merit.

A Sicilian Romance draws on a number of Gothic conventions but is no less enjoyable for it. Watch out for armed bandits, nuns, convents, secret prisons and poison.

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