Most helpful positive review
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 20 January 2004
"The Beetle" has got to be one of the strangest novels to come out of the richness of the whole Victorian/Edwardian Gothic tradition. It concerns a bizarre creature, the insect of the title, that can transform itself into a human being. The story starts with a down-and-out on the streets of London, trying desperately to find somewhere to shelter for the night against the rain. He finds a window open in what appears to be an abandoned house, and climbs in. He finds himself sharing his quarters with someone who appears slowly from under a mass of bedding in the corner. This person appears to be a bald-headed repellent old man, with a creepy way of speaking, who takes the tramp for its first victim.
Rather akin to Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan" in that this terrible creature begins to wreck havoc on the polite society it finds itself in. But what is this creature? For one thing we are never entirely sure what sex it is, on many occasions it appears to be an hermaphrodite, which adds some intriguing sexual psychology to the proceedings! Or perhaps Marsh was simply picking up on the old idea that alchemists, when they had perfected their craft, were able to change sex? The whole story is a bizarre yet absorbing mix of true Victorian spaciness combined with John Buchan-style heroics (there is a splendid chase scene when the creature is pursued across London and onto a train). I suspect the reasons it is not that well known these days is that the writing is quite dated. Incidentally, Richard Marsh was the grandfather of fantasy writer, Robert Aickman, so it seems that writing "strange stories" ran in the family!