Published in the same year as Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, and incidentally, more popular at the time, ‘The Beetle’ is an atmospheric and chilling piece of gothic Victorian Literature that is often (and unjustifiably) usurped by its literary cousin.
In writing ‘The Beetle’ and giving life to an evil protagonist, eminent Victorian novelist Richard Marsh created a despicable embodiment of horror quite equal to Stoker’s blood-sucking vampire. Plunged straight into a world of gloomy horror from off, the initial pages reveal a vivid and genuinely disturbing account of terror that remains as fresh and effective as it did 112 years ago.
Taking up the multi-narrative format indicative of the period, the novel proceeds to build nicely, weaving a complex yet easy-to-follow plotline that points towards the mysterious past of an eminent politician – a shady past that is evidently to account for the current morbid occurrences that plague our cast of likeable characters.
Unravelling mystery after mystery, the book reads extremely well and Marsh has to be credited with building an exceptional state of tension and anticipation. The finale is nothing short of epic, clawing at and subsequently shredding the reader’s senses and nerves as it reaches its dramatic, evocative and rewarding ending.
Having consumed this book avidly over a week, I have to say that ‘The Beetle’ is an excellent piece of literature that remains able to cause chills despite the desensitised nature of modern readers. Another example of late Victorian / early Edwardian fascination with all things Eastern and oriental (see Stoker’s ‘The Jewel of Seven Stars), this is a thoroughly readable member of the gothic school, and fully deserves a reputation equal to ‘Dracula’. Highly, highly recommended.