Everyone I have talked to who has read this book told me that it was one of the most boring things that they have ever read and that it was a waste of time. I felt quite sad that it was disliked so much, so when I had to read it for the Gothic module at university, I was determined to love it and for it to become my new favourite. After all, someone had to like it, didn’t they?
Set in the sinister monastery of the Capuchins in Madrid, The Monk is a violent tale of ambition, murder, and incest. The struggle between maintaining monastic vows and fulfilling personal ambitions leads its main character, the monk Ambrosio, to temptation and the breaking of his vows, then to sexual obsession and rape, and finally to murder in order to conceal his guilt.
When I found out that I had to read The Monk, I read the premise of the book on Goodreads and my interest was definitely piqued. It just sounded so dark, interesting and definitely something that I would be interested in when it comes to gothic literature. So this is the story of me reading The Monk:
Ok, so I start reading it and I become engrossed. The character of Ambrosio has me hooked and I like the different characters perspectives (even if it did get confusing at times). Then, I neared the 150-page checkpoint of the book and suddenly, things took a really strange turn… There was a certain character’s backstory, which was very interesting at first and he had been missing for a little bit and I wanted to know what he had been getting up to. So for the first few pages, I was interested, but then the backstory went on for another ten… and another ten… and another ten… FINALLY, I got to the end and I realised that the backstory had been going on for nearly 100 pages. Yes, you read that right: 100 PAGES OF BACKSTORY THAT WAS TOLD IN THE MOST BORING WAY EVER.
“In short, to enter the lists of literature is wilfully to expose yourself to the arrows of neglect, ridicule, envy, and disappointment. Whether you write well or ill, be assured that you will not escape from blame…”
― Matthew Lewis,
By this point, I had grown quite tired of the book and just wanted to DNF it and lie to my teacher that I had finished it. But no, I carried on and I’m glad that I did. Once you get that awful backstory bit out of the way, the story really picks up the pace and loads of murder happen which is brilliant, and then there’s loads of character development for nearly every single one of the characters. I think that it was very interesting how it was a story about a monk who gave into seduction and broke his vows and then just reached the point of no return. I thought it was an absolutely brilliant premise and the ending! Just wow. I mean, it was a bit sudden, yes, but it still gave you the feels (and not in a sad way, but in a ‘yes’! Breakfast club punch to the air kind of feels.)
Then for further research for my essay (because I’m just that good of a student), I watched the movie adaption of The Monk. I sincerely regret that decision. OH MY LIFE, it was awful… It really was. They cut so many important bits out and everything just seemed all wrong. And it was also set in France when the book was actually set in Spain so they changed the whole bloody location! Needless to say, I came out of the classroom with my friends feeling severely disappointed that a modern movie adaptation of an interesting book got it so wrong! BUT I’M NOT HERE TO REVIEW THE FILM!
Overall, this book was average. It wasn’t a life-changing read, it hasn’t become one of my new favourites, but it was very interesting and it has a premise that I’m sure that I will never forget because of how dark it is. The things that let this book down was definitely the 100 pages of backstory, and sometimes it was really hard to differentiate the characters perspectives so I got very confused. I can definitely see where the people I spoke to are coming from about it being boring, but I really do not agree with them.
Trigger warnings: rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, incest, violence