Week 4 – The Luck of the Vails

 

My history with this book is much like the Luck itself, a supposed great treasure that brought ill luck with it. At first I was thrilled to have found an early EF Benson, a pre-Mapp and Lucia era Benson, reissued in the Vintage Classics series – if there’s one thing I love, it’s a rediscovered, long lost gem. An attractive cover, a handsome young hero who has recently inherited an ancient estate, a family heirloom, a family curse – what could possibly go wrong?
This seems to have been miscategorised as crime fiction – it’s more of a high Victorian Gothic romance, with all the floweriness of language of the 1860s. I was surprised to see it was written in 1901, when contemporaries such as Conan Doyle were writing fast-moving concise prose. This didn’t so much meander as dribble along in a tiny trickle, compared to the full-force waterfall of a Conan Doyle. Yes, there was some crime, a creeping suspicion that all was not well, but far too slowly for there to be any suspense for the modern reader. This is the kind of book Stephen Leacock satirised in “Gertrude the Governess”, the best part of a century ago, and it was in a style that was considered dated even then. One for curio cabinet rather than the bookshelf, I fear.
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