I’ve always been a fan of gothic novels. My adolescence was spent on Dracula, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre among others. Of course, it is expected for angst ridden teenage girls to inhale gothic novels. (Truly, I was considerably less angst ridden than most.) However, more recently I’ve enjoyed some newer gothic treats like The Historian and The Little Stranger.
On the jacket of Serena, the book is referred to as a gothic novel. It does fulfill many of the elements that I expect in look for in gothic stories. The environment is bleak and dark. The atmosphere evokes mystery, horror, and a bit of mysticism. There is a definite damsel in distress who is followed throughout the novel by a sense of foreboding. There is drama and decay in the events and people who fill the pages. However, I would have to say it isn’t a classically gothic novel. Perhaps it should be considered an American gothic….I need to think about that a bit. There are some very obvious, and expected, gothic features missing, although there are substitutes provided.
For one, there isn’t a crumbling castle or mansion with sprawling moors and wasteland surrounded by a barren ocean. There are imposing and, increasingly barren, mountains. Most of the story takes place in a logging camp in 1930s North Carolina. The forest is portrayed as dark and menacing, and is slowly overtaken by miles of barren stumps. It is a more than sufficient replacement for a crumbling stone manse. (Though, I truly love crumbling stone manses.)
Also, Serena herself is the villain. And she is quite terrifying. She is no weak-willed and frightened female protagonist. She is not the damsel in distress. She is a bleak, decaying, passionate force.
It is hard to nail down exactly who the protagonist is. Serena would be the first person I would choose, though she is also the evil villain. And although protagonists do not always have to be good, or even liked, by the readers, it just doesn’t quite feel right to call her protagonist. She’s more like the setting…or emotion in the book. Something a bit more anyway.
It is clear (I think) from what I’ve written so far that I am ambivalent about this novel. I’m not sure why I picked this book up at the library, but when I began reading it I struggled. I had to actually force myself to read a chapter before bed each night. I hated the dark bleakness, and the obvious evil of Serena. I just couldn’t get into it. This people, is not like me. Was I just not in the mood? Was the moon in the wrong position? When I was young I would often force myself to finish books I wasn’t enjoying or didn’t get into just because…well damn it you have to finish what you start. Now that I’m past 30, I don’t have time for that. If I don’t like it, I put it down and move on. I usually give it 20-30 pages, but then I move on. Yet, I didn’t do that with this one.
One hundred and fifty pages in I was finally at the point where I just had to finish it. What would happen to Rachel and the baby? Would Pemberton be completely overcome by Serena, or would he escape her clutches only to die a horrible and much deserved death? I read on…
Rash is a lovely writer. That is why I say it must have been my mood. I do think he can tell a good story and his writing is smooth, and strangely soothing despite his subject matter. Now, a few weeks removed from the experience of Serena I can say it was a good read. Did I like it?
It was a good read….I’m not sure of anything more than that.