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on 13 April 2010
I stumbled across this book via Amazon's financially lethal `recommendations'. As a 27 year old bloke I was slightly seduced by the sordid plot description, but also by the fact that I like to read things that are slightly off beat but known of (if that makes sense); the Walter Scott "epoch in our literature" quote did a lot to secure my purchase.

The book is pitched as a gothic horror by some but it comes nowhere near the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein in terms of its requirements for the reader to dispel a grasp on reality. Whilst there are elements of the `supernatural' they do not dominate the book and prove more allegorical to the characters motivations and feelings than anything else.

The atmosphere of the book I found very `close', almost claustrophobic at times; it is primarily set in Madrid and unsurprisingly is predominantly focused around a monastery. There is a broad cast of characters but I did feel they were, at times, distant from the reader; Lewis does not foster the character development of many classic authors and this did lead me to feel slightly detached from their respective endings and the conclusion to the various plots. In this vain it does take a while for the book to get going (I started to get really involved after 260 pages), but in this time the characters (barring what I said above) do develop and do become enticingly intertwined, leading you through to an exciting conclusion. I think my main gripe was that I wasn't quite sure where the 260 pages went, I've felt more attached to characters in other books after a couple of pages: this could however be as a result of the age of the book and perhaps a feeling that the characterisations are now a little dated.

This book is an education if nothing else and does present a good read: there's no denying you want to see how it all turns out at the end. It is easy to read given its age but the reader must, at times, adopt a `getting through it' attitude. It does build to a crescendo though which makes it all worthwhile.
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on 30 September 2009
I have just finished reading this book and it truly arrested my attention. This is not your typical love story. This is gothic at its greatest. One thing I loved about the book is that there are about 4 (if not more) different romantic plots within the book which at the end of the book is beautifully interwoven.There is Raymond and Agnes, Lorenzo and Antonia (Later with Virginia), The Monk and Matilda, then The Monk and Antonia. If you understand how to read and understand classics then this is definately a must read. The first chapter might be a little confusing and the poems were a little unnecessary but stick with it and I promise that you will not be disappointed. The monk proved how pride can just as well be a sin. This novel touches all areas like pride, lust, sexual obsession, murder, rape, incest, magic, sorcery, demons, adventures with dangers (i.e armed robbers) etc,. I love this novel and if you enjoy classics, then this should not be missing from your collection
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on 4 February 2009
I have read horror books, but there are too few that I consider outstanding. What is even worse is that modern horror tends to depict too much blood and gore with poor story telling.

That is why I started to search for classical horror. To my surprise this book really entertained me. What is more surprising is that this was first published in 1796.
A book that depicts murder, sex and pacts with the devil. With a sinister monastery as background and its dark atmosphere.

I'm very satisfied to have found and bought this book. I totally recommend it and I consider it a Classic Gem of Horror.
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on 12 January 2010
This book really transports the reader into the heart of darkness. The scenes of Agnes sufferings in the tomb are truly horrific and unforgettable. Were they to be portrayed accurately in a film version of the book, I think some people might be forced to leave the cinema. Great stuff.
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on 20 March 2012
Descriptions and reviews tend to emphasize the gaudier elements of this gothic melodrama. Regretably the composition of this ponderous tale is limp, beyond mere limpid. I would almost go so far as to say the drama is tepid. The impression of a cleric that succumbs to earthly vulgarity essentially, is steeped in a spanish somnolence. In short, the sheer lack of a decent tempo in the text slows the reader to a monks starched mind-set..drowsy.

Lacks any significant traces of varied pace, or characters with anything suggesting depth of varied emotions; moreover the mode of discourse in the narrative is basically a court drama, a play drawn out to novel length & peppered with sensationalist motifs when the narrative lags for sensation. And there is a lot of lag. For more verve seek out Melmoth the Wanderer, which is almost as multi-faceted as The Saragossa Manuscript..or mayhaps Les Chants de Maldoror, which has far superior command of 'evil'. Eccentricity is best treated by an authentic eccentric.
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on 14 July 2009
a book often mocked but not read.
This book is surprisingly entertaining. It has so much going on. The little sub plots are awesome and the gore is neatly framed within a well constructed narrative.
I was sorry the book finished--and it's a finish and a half by the way.

surprisingly simple read for its time too.

Gothic and horror may sound similar but this is far more thoughtful than your average horror.

highly reccomended!
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Mathew Lewis was just 19 in 1796 when he wrote 'The Monk'. The speed at which he penned his story, around ten weeks, along with his youth and inexperience as a writer worked in his favour. He was a rebel and probably not the least bit afraid of the condemnation he received for what was considered 'blasphemy'.

Lewis reached into the heart of mainstream religion, superstition and morality and placed the Devil right in the centre of all that was considered right and proper. The Devil had one aim. He's out to corrupt the soul of a pious and respected man, Ambrosio, Abbot of the Capuchin monastery in Madrid. Ambrosio is well and truly set up and he's such an innocent. 'Lamb to the slaughter' is perhaps the most apt description but; his struggle for redemption in the face of dreadful sin is certainly poignant.

Everything we now expect from the Gothic genre is here; demons, devils, monks, monasteries, Inquisition, sexual overtones and masses of guilt and darkness. 'The Monk' is delivered in a series of short, sharp scenes and can seem quite random and disjointed but that's part of it's power. You're thrown into events with little idea of how you got there. Creates a great feeling of being unsettled and on edge.

If you're not used to 18th century literature you might struggle with the themes and the language but try to stay with it. So much of what we now soak up in the Gothic horror/ Gothic romance genre has it's roots here. Great morality tale and highly recommended.
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on 21 July 2009
I bought this book when I had nothing else to read as it was controversial at the time it was first published and it involves murder, incest, religion, deception and morals - a compelling mix.

Although it took me the first chaper to get used to the way it was written - the word order is slightly different - it is a cracker of a page turner and I couldn't put it down. Although I knew that some things were going to happen before they actually happened, it added to the suspense rather than destroying it and it made the story ultimately more tragic. In short, I wish that this author was still alive as there needs to be more books like this.
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One critic of this book in the Cambridge History of English and American Literature gives a verdict I can't resist: "as a whole, a mere mess and blotch of murder, outrage, diablerie and indecency." Well, quite. It was when first published, and indeed still is, reviled as a sordid and ugly story, which manages to blame women for most of the actions of the men. There are magical mirrors, venomous snakes, and transgender malarkey lurking in the corners, but the reviling and doing away with of women seems its chief enjoyment. The plot is a bladdered leak of varied brothers, wives, mothers and children - the main villain Ambrosio unknowingly rapes his sister and kills his mother - the chief demon is a woman too.

I confess, I couldn't really make much of this book. I can see its appeal - in unlicensed revelry of concupiscence and debauchery. The language is ornate and contributes to the opera buffa atmosphere, with much of the comedy being unintended, but there is also a very bleak picture of human nature here, with men the predators and females either knowing and wicked or innocent and witless. While this is very much the preferred atmosphere of the `Sensation' period of literature, it never quite reached the depraved heights of The Monk again, but went underground to rummage around in the literary basement of explicit pornography.
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The Monk has to be one of the greatest gothic novels ever written and brought the author instant notoriety. I must admit that I haven't yet met anyone who has not loved this after reading it. Written in under three months Matthew Lewis thereafter came to be called 'Monk' Lewis, due to the popularity of this story.

As the title would suggest, this book centres on a monk, Ambrosio, and those who surround him. On the surface, Ambrosio is revered by the people of Madrid as almost saint like - but is he? Holier than thou he may appear, but beneath the surface there is a man who is vain and thinks he is better than others.

Camp, crazy, with cross dressing, lust, obsession, pride, vanity, and some humour along with the horror this is a tale that grabs you from the beginning. This is a book that you could write books on if you were to do a full analysis of it, but why bother? Let’s face it, you are looking for something that is fun and readable, and don't want to be bored with deeper meanings (unless you are studying it), so just sit back read, enjoy and be enthralled by this book.
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