The Ghoul by John Joseph Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"The Ghoul" is sure to be a classic piece of Gothic literature.
Echoing the descriptive narrative flair of Charles Dickens, the author of "The Ghoul" takes the reader into the seedy districts of El Ravel, where crime, cruelty and devilish characters await you.
From the onset, I thought the highly descriptive narrative was very Charles Dickens like, as if the readers were walking down the cobbled streets and seeing the city from the eye's of various characters. The main character in this Gothic novel is a humble priest, Marçal, a kindly man that feels that it is his purpose in life to serve God and to bring relief to those that are suffering. Still a novice, he accepts a new position in the bustling city, El Ravel, in Barcelona. Immediately he is taking back by the need of the city; the high crime rate, poverty and overall suffering of the people of his parish. As he becomes familiar with his role as the new priest of El Ravel, he takes it upon himself to explore the dregs of society, and becomes acquainted with the city's prostitutes, criminals, and beggars lining up along the dirty streets. Marçal is determined to be an ever shining light in the midst of a great darkness. The people in the city begin to think favourably of him, and he is slowly succeeding in bringing people back into the church, but little does he know the dark forces surrounding him, anxious to bring him to his doom.
I thought the author's writing style closely echoed Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens. If you are a fan of Collin's "The Moonstone" or "The Woman in White," it is likely that you will love Connelly's work. There were also instances in the end, when I thought of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," which brought a certain level of paranormal and horror elements into the mix. "The Monk" by Matthew Lewis also came across my mind more than once, probably because Connely's "Marçal" so closely resembled the fallen character of Lewis' "Ambrisio." Indeed, they were both self-righteous man that were unknowingly lured by unknown forces, all contrived by the Devil. I believe if you are a lover of classic Gothic literature, or a spooky tale that will leave you turning the page well into the night, then "The Ghoul" is the book for you.
The only fault I found was the beginning, because it felt quite sluggish and I was impatient for the plot to really begin. Half-way through the novel things began to pick up, and the reader was able to witness all manners of events quickly unfolding for the main characters. I also developed a feeling of empathy for Marçal, which is attributed to the marvellous writing skills of Connely. In the end, this young priest was too good for such a seedy, sordid place. There are instances in life, or even in this world, where light can sometimes be blotted out by supreme darkness. There are sad instances where evil does win, and we are helpless to watch "the fall" as it were, or at least in this case, the unexpected fate of Marçal. I believe this quote in the novel epitomizes the failings of this Godly devout priest:
"I see that you have a good heart and your intentions are noble but to be perfectly frank, your wide-eyed optimism and naïve attitude to rescuing our godforsaken little precinct are at best, misguided and misplaced."
If you are a lover of nineteenth century literature, or possess a penchant for horror and the grotesque then this is the book for you. Drama, suspense, and mystery are all the words I would use to describe the novel. I eagerly await for Connelly's next book, and hope that he will one day publish "The Ghoul" in a physical format so that I can add to my book shelf.
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