‘Man was born for society. However little He may be attached to the World, He never can wholly forget it, or bear to be wholly forgotten by it’
Rating: 4 stars
Read: 25 September – 29 September, 2018
Well, this was a crazy read. Honestly, you wouldn’t think Matthew Lewis wrote The Monk in 1796. It’s so different to anything I’ve ever read before. It’s the shocking story of Ambrosio, a monk, who is torn between his spiritual vows and the temptation of physical pleasure. This then spirals into a dramatic tale of sexual obsession, rape and murder. It’s a violent, crazy and addictive read – to say the least.
Considering the content of The Monk, I really didn’t expect to enjoy the story. But I did. I couldn’t help it. I was invested in the story. I was intrigued to find out if Ambrosio would commit more sins and crimes, or would he finally repent. When it came to reviewing the book, I started to question myself: What does it say of me to have enjoyed this book? One that is full of rape, incest, murder and torture? Is it because I don’t cross those boundaries that I’m able to enjoy reading about it? Hard questions, but ones that I can’t answer for some reason…
I really liked how Lewis flipped everything on its head, especially when it came to religion – more importantly Catholicism. The figure of the monk or nun is usually the centrepiece of purity, safety and wholesomeness, but that was far from the case with this story. Instead, they were the perpetrators. They committed such atrocious crimes that it’s still hard to comprehend now. How can their values align with their actions? Considering it’s a tale of morality, the things you expect to be moral are far from it. So, should we look beyond our assumptions?
My favourite thing about The Monk was definitely the supernatural elements, more specifically the daemons. At times, especially towards the end of the novel, it started to remind me of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (you, know my all-time favourite play). Lucifer was depicted brilliantly; I never expected him to be the one who righted the wrongs. He showed a multitude of layers through his good and bad traits. I especially loved the end plot twist involving him, it was very unexpected. The only negative thing I have to say is that he wasn’t featured enough, but maybe I’m just being greedy.
Another aspect of the novel I wanted to touch on was the Gothic elements. This, in my opinion, is the perfect Gothic novel. It had everything: the architecture, the supernatural, the suspenseful atmosphere, the uncertainty, the position of women in the text (both being challenged and reinforced). You name it, The Monk had it. My favourite chapter was the one that detailed the bleeding nun. It genuinely creeped me out, and I found myself questioning if she could be real or not. It’s the little things like that that make a Gothic story successful, and this was definitely a success. It was a brutal Gothic tale, and didn’t shy away from the graphic detail.
All-in-all, an utterly brilliant and unexpected read. It was a perfect blend of the Gothic and social comedy. New plot-twists were being thrown at me left, right and centre and I couldn’t get enough of it. I wouldn’t say it’s a new favourite, but it’s very close. I would definitely recommend, and hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Have you read The Monk? What did you think of it? Does it sound like something you’d read? I’d love to discuss it with you!
Thanks for reading, Lauren X