Four estranged friends from a creative writing MFA are invited to a reunion by their former colleague, Eric. Now a screenwriter, and the most successful of the group, Eric flies them to a remote lakeside villa. His intention is to recreate the legendary literary event where Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin created Frankenstein while in the company of her lover and soon-to-be husband, Percy Shelley, her stepsister Claire Clairmont, the poet Lord Byron and Byron’s physician Dr. Polidori. Back in Geneva in 1816 it had been Byron’s suggestion that the group engaged in a competition to write a ghost story. In author Michael Mullin’s revival of this scenario, GOTHIC REVIVAL–this time set in contemporary USA–Eric is the flamboyant Byron-esque figure who instigates their own ghost writing competition. Much as the original meeting saw jealousy and tensions quickly rise to the surface, not least the allegation of a brief affair between Mary and Byron, this reunion is soon plagued by petty bickering and mistrust fueled by the manipulations of their host. And as much as the group enjoy the struggle of creating their own ghosts, far more sinister events are happening off the page.
The scenario for Mullin’s novel is a neat update of a famous event. By directly paralleling the original protagonists–right down to having a character with a PhD in Victorian History as the doctor–Mullin uses echoes of history to tell a familiar modern tale of once close friends finding that subsequent life and experiences has widened the space between them. In Mullin’s tale the psychodrama of ostensibly trapped characters forms the basis for a compelling and frequently surprising literary thriller. The characterization is good with clearly defined individuals and voices and Mullin’s spends a lot of time on the stories that his characters are working on. Within these there is some foreshadowing of future events, but it is only when Eric’s machinations step up a gear that the novel truly picks up pace. Though readers expecting horror and dread may be disappointed, GOTHIC REVIVAL does call on the original gothic fiction trope of the past creeping into the present. The last section of the book throws up numerous twists and the tension, somewhat lacking in the middle section, begins to bite.
Inventive and well written by Michael Mullin, GOTHIC REVIVAL tells the tale of a legendary gothic literary event reimagined as a contemporary thriller.
~Kent Lane for IndieReader