Gothic is the term originally used to describe things pertaining to the gothic people and then reused in a variety of contexts. The creation of literary works that employed such late medieval backdrops to explore dark aspects of human nature and the supernatural led to the creation of gothic fiction, which was the origin of the modern horror genre.
On my intriguing gothic tour I found that the true origins of the gothic culture are now more related to the disturbing and the macabre. The Possession of Doctor Forrest – for me – certainly covered both of these, but was it enough to keep the cover over my head and the lights on? I’m not too sure.
Richard.T.Kelly was a guest author at the Durham Book Festival this year and wrote this short piece about his novel:
Let me welcome you to ‘the dark side’ – the place, I daresay, from which my novel, The Possessions of Doctor Forrest, comes.
It’s a tale of mystery and the supernatural, very influenced by the old literary style known as ‘gothic’, even though the story takes place in the present. But in writing the novel I wanted to see if that rather vintage style could still entertain modern-day readers – because it’s always delighted me.
When I was a boy first discovering books I had the child’s customary fascination with the uncanny and the macabre. Some of the first novels I loved were gothic classics of the 19th century – Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. All of these stories – indeed, most ‘horror’ stories – are really about our (very natural) fear of death, and our common yearning for a life beyond the expiry date of our bodies: that date unknown and yet assured…
I wanted to transplant the themes of these books, and their eerie atmospheres, into a 21st century story set in London, about a successful cosmetic surgeon – Doctor Forrest – who goes missing in strange circumstances. He has two dear old friends, Doctors Lochran and Hartford. They had suspected Forrest was already
in a bad way and now fear something dreadful has happened to him. But as they attempt to investigate his disappearance for themselves they are drawn into a world of menace and threat, where they discover that their friend was not the man they thought.
A good gothic story should unnerve us by dint of its darkness. But there’s also something in the dark that can be enveloping, and alluring. So I hope this novel will give you a fright – but that you find pleasure in it too.
Richard T Kelly
Book group questions
Here are a few questions that the author thought might help with our discussion. How do you think you would answer these questions?
1) What does the term ‘gothic’ mean to you in describing a story? Is it a style that you recognise? Were there things about this novel that felt ‘gothic’ to you?
2) Do you think Richard T Kelly’s style of writing was appropriate to the sort of story he was telling? Did the novel feel ‘old-fashioned’ to you in any way?
3) As you went along, were you reminded of any other horror stories or supernatural stories that you’ve read previously?
4) How soon did you guess ‘the secret’ of what had happened to Dr Forrest? Was there a specific point in the story where you were sure you had cottoned on? What were the main clues that helped you to guess?
5) Why do you think Doctor Forrest accepted the ‘bargain’ offered him by Dijana Vukovara?
6) To what extent do you believe that the way we look, our physical appearance, defines who we are as people? If your appearance changed very radically, could you still be the same person? Or would something essential about who ‘you’ are have changed, too?
7) The three doctors – Forrest, Lochran and Hartford – are markedly different from one another. What do the choices they’ve made in life (their wives, their homes, professions, hobbies, enthusiasms) tell us about the sort of men they are?
8) Did the novel remind you in any way of your own friendships, or friendships you used to have? Do you think we forgive our oldest friends for behaviour that we wouldn’t tolerate from other people? Or is it possible, as Hartford says of Forrest, for even one’s oldest friends to ‘lose the things we liked about them’?
9) Was the ending of the novel an appropriate, satisfying resolution to the story for you? Or would you rather it had ended differently?
10) Can you imagine what might happen next to Dr Forrest after the book’s final page?
11) Looking back, do you think there was a moral to this book? Dr Forrest says he has had ‘no end of a lesson.’ Do you agree? If so, what sort of a lesson was he taught?
The questions above moved our meeting on at a good pace and really fuelled our discussions to the very end. However, we did find that this book failed to deliver that fresh, new gothic novel we were all so hungry for. Frankenstein, Dracula, Dorian Grey, Doctor Faustus – they all seemed to be woven together to create a patchwork quilt rather than spinning a new yarn and creating a brand new sheet! We felt as though we had been there before which made it harder to get into the true bones of the story. The beginning and middle seemed more of a murder mystery and it wasn’t until the latter part that we really see the gothic genre coming to the front of the storyline, but by then – it’s just too late.
However, we did have an amazing book group discussion on this novel and for that I thank Richard.T.Kelly for this inventive gothic piece.