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"the power of the sane over the insane",
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This review is from: Unfashioned Creatures (Kindle Edition)
I was initially intrigued most of all by the Gothic nature of this book. It's rare you see a novel written in the present, described in such a way in its blurb as would make Northanger Abbey's Catherine swoon with delight. It reminded me of a few previous reads, most notably Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper'. Therefore I hoped to find some of the tightly written psychological dysfunction here that I found in that novella.
For the most part I was not disappointed. There are many smoke and mirror moments here (perhaps too many), in a book told from two perspectives. We alternate between the historical figure of Isabella Baxter Booth and the fictitious Doctor Alexander Balfour - the former the wife of a man who is losing his mind and the latter a psychologically traumatised 'mind doctor' striving for the perfect subject on which to write a book, and not caring what means he must take in order to achieve his goals.
For the majority of the book I far preferred Isabella's chapters. I found the author captured her character better, kept the question as to whether Isabella, as well as her husband, was psychologically unstable hanging above us. This made me question every incident and scene, making the climax of the book all that more tense and enjoyable as a result. Although there were stand out moments in the Alexander sections, his tale had many flat pages, during which I couldn't wait to reach the next entry concerning Isabella. The plot sometimes slowed to a snail's pace, which is why this is a four star and not five star review. I think it had a lot to do with the author attempting to place a lot of period appropriate psychological study within Alexander's chapters, often glossing over the more interesting aspects of his psyche and past as a result.
Saying that, Lesley McDowell does a good job of keeping the flow of the story's period true. I thought that a few incidences were a little overly forced (the intimate connection to Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft felt a little out of place) but the attempt (often successful, sometimes not so much) to make Isabella a strong woman of independent thinking as opposed to a downtrodden wife was a pleasant change, in comparison to what novels written in the time depicted often offer.
There is a little romance but it is fleeting and not for the romantic at heart, with characters being used and abused left right and centre. In fact I would hesitate to call what comes to pass, between perhaps the great majority of the characters, romance at all. It is instead the endurance and manipulation of human feeling, practically always unrequited.
Unfashioned Creatures is not an easy read at times. However if you give it your patience you will be swept into a tale which is a mixture of psychological thriller, supernatural, gothic horror and period tale. It's definitely something uniquely different and, for fans of the Yellow Wallpaper, highly reminiscent (although not quite as powerful as) Gilman's work.