I finally finished Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho. The story wandered a lot in the way old books tend to do. If you picture rich people reading out loud by the fire, calm evening stretching into lonely night, with nothing to distract them from the story unfolding, this book makes perfect sense. It’s quite long, and instead of a mystery driving steadily toward the big reveal, the book is a series of shorter adventures united by a common thread. There are long poems, lonely castles, and craggy mountain peaks galore. Radcliffe spends a lot of time creating picturesque scenes that don’t much move the plot along, but which help pull you into the story if you have time to really imagine them. If you’re reading in small bits or amid distractions (as I often do) this style can feel painfully slow and wordy.
Mostly, Udolpho is a bit uneven. Some characters were interesting, and some were too perfectly good or evil to care about. The main characters, in fact, were the least interesting ones. Some of the adventures were exciting and some were a bit forced.
This might sound weird at first, but Mysteries of Udolpho reminded me over and over of Scooby Doo. Both of them are full of ghosts and monsters that always turn out to be tricks and disguises. And neither pays too much attention to realism when it comes to the big reveal. There’s no detective vibe to Udolpho, so it’s not exactly an early mystery novel, but it seems like a step on the way.
If you have a cozy fireplace and some long nights ahead, Udolpho is free or cheap all over the internet if you want to give it a try. I suspect it would be more fun to listen to than to read, so if any of you try that (or already did that ages ago) I’d love to hear how you liked it.
Meanwhile, I’m craving a little more speed and action so my next read will be from this century. I’m trying out Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes.