Another week, another chapter of the “Zanna tries new things” series. It’s not the first time I’m asked to review a book, but it’s the first time I’m doing it for a new release. As soon as I got the request I knew I couldn’t say no, even though I had a bit of self doubt before accepting.
What is the book is too long or too boring to be read on time? What if I half-ass it because I read it too fast, excited by the chance of being one of the first people to review this book? Fortunately, none of these things happened, so it’s about time I stop rambling and begin talking about the book. It’s “The Pure World Comes” by Rami Ungar, a horror story set in the Victorian England.
From what I read in the book synopsis it sounded like the kind of story set in a time when the border between science and pseudo-science was blurred (especially if we look at it from a distance). The era of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, those writers who knew how to provoke fear in the reader without resorting to gory images or to blatant violence. The days when the true horror came from within each one of us, from the apparent comfort of castles and haunted houses.
The immersion in Victorian society works since page one, when we meet Shirley Dobbins: she’s a young maid working for the Avondales, a wealthy family, and since the beginning we understand that she’s a curious girl, but she’s also enough matter-of-fact to know what her place in the world is. She’s fascinated by science, but she knows there’s no place for women in science in the Victorian era. Another thing that becomes clear early on is that Shirley is an orphan, that her mother was an alcoholic and that she never met her father. And she doesn’t believe in true love, as opposed to other girls her age.
Shirley knows that the best she can hope for herself is to become a respected head-housekeeper, and she’s fine with it. Until one day her employers die in an accident, and she’s hired by a distant relative of the Avondales, sir Joseph Hunting. Nobody knows him very well, because sir Joseph is the typical mad scientist: too focused on the study of science to care about the British high society, and kind of an outcast because of it. But he’s also very wealthy, and the pay he offers Shirley is more than fair.
As soon as the girl gets to Hunting Lodge, it takes a very short time for sir Joseph to see that Shirley has the curiosity required for the scientist’s mindset, and to promote her to be his lab assistant.
Sir Joseph, in facts, is building a machine that will cause a revolution in the world as it has been known for ages. But as they begin experimenting with the machine, strange things begin to happen at Hunting Lodge. Are they related so Sir Joseph’s experiments? And how? Can a machine whose aim is to create the perfect world produce something so terrible?
I’m not going to say anything else about the story because it’s a new release and it doesn’t deserve to be spoiled by an enthusiastic review. I’ll just say that I looked for every possible kind of justification for what was going on at Hunting Lodge, but the simplicity and neatness of the solution surprised me once again. My best bet was something related to the world’s need for balance. The book showed that perfection is indeed possible, but it’s not necessarily a good thing*.
“The Pure World Comes” has all the ingredients of your typical gothic novel, and I guess that true fans of the genre won’t be disappointed. The unlucky mad scientist going all-in on experiments, creepy houses almost too big for people to live in, optimism about new scientific breakthroughs mixed with skepticism and suspicion when dealing with something new and unknown. There are also a few places where I thought I found a reference to some more modern media (The Shining and yes, of course, Trainspotting), but maybe it’s just my brain willing to see patterns that don’t really exist. But I know what I saw, just like Shirley knew what she saw.
If I had to find a remark to the book, we need to go to last few pages, when it describes how Shirley’s life turns around after the mystery of Hunting Lodge is solved. In my opinion, it was a bit of a Deus ex machina, even though it didn’t spoil the rest of the book. Also, as I said, the situation had already been settled by the protagonists of the story, in a very creative way. Yes, I have to admit that I put down my Kindle and applauded to the solution because hell yeah, that’s genius.
Even though I was curious, I have to admit that I’m somehow glad we didn’t get an answer to THAT question, because it really didn’t matter. Shirley and sir Joseph really shared a special kind of bond as people devoted to science, and it was clear that he treated her almost as his peer thanks to her thirst of knowledge.
To sum it all up, if you’re looking for a good gothic novel, look no further than this book. If you think the genre died a century ago, well, this book is the right way to convince you that gothic novel is alive and kicking.
*Not to brag, but I had already stated this almost a year ago.