skygiants: Jane Eyre from Paula Rego's illustrations, facing out into darkness (more than courage)
[personal profile] skygiants
Yes, of course when my Kindle died and I had to go used-book hunting I also picked up the first $2 Gothic novel I found, what else did you expect?

Isabelle Holland's The DeMaury Papers is, nowhere near as off-the-wall bizarre as the first book of hers I read, Trelawny (aka the one with at least seven twin-swaps.) Instead, it goes the other direction and becomes hilarious in just how much it straight-faced commits to EVERY SINGLE GOTHIC TROPE. Sinister houses, dead wives, secret societies, evil governesses -- this book has it all!

Our Heroine, Janet de Maury, works in publishing and also just so happens to be the daughter of a Famous Dead Humanitarian Who Founded a Famous Society For World Domination Peace In Our Time, about which Janet has always been somewhat dubious.

JANET: Huh, weird! Our dreamy boss Tony, a book publisher who is also a former congressman who is also about to be named ambassador to a foreign country who is also incredibly handsome and charming who I've also had a crush on since I was fourteen, suddenly wants to pay me a lot of money to write a biography of my father!
BECCA, THE GENRE-SAVVY: Ah, yes, Janet's boss is definitely evil.

However, before she can write the biography, she has to go visit her beautiful dead cousin Rosemary's widower husband Gideon, where he keeps all of Janet's father's papers in the attic of his SINISTER WELSH CASTLE!

JANET: I've met Gideon three times and he's always been incredibly rude and taciturn. Also, I'm pretty sure he blames me for Beautiful Cousin Rosemary's tragic death in a mysterious hit-and-run accident in Italy. I am super not looking forward to spending a month in his sinister Welsh castle.
BECCA, THE GENRE-SAVVY: Ah, yes, Janet and Gideon are definitely going to fall in love.
JANET: However, I am excited to meet Rosemary's son Benedict, a temperamental child who was in a tragic accident and can now only walk at plot-convenient moments!

Before she can meet Benedict, however, Janet is introduced to the rest of the castle's inhabitants:

ROGER, Gideon's younger half-brother, who is charming and witty and likes taking Janet sympathetically aside to explain to her about how regrettably awful Gideon is, because he's definitely not evil!
SHEILA, Benedict's beautiful nurse-slash-governess, who seems to resent Janet for inexplicable reasons and also hate dogs, because she's definitely not evil!
THE DOG, Janet's new best friend and the real love interest of this book!

GIDEON: WELL. I did not want you here, and I would like to make it very clear that you are going to have a miserable time here, because --
JANET: ... omg whose is this dog.
GIDEON: -- um, well, it's a stray that we found and were going to give to --
JANET: wrong, this dog is now MY dog.
GIDEON: ........
JANET: I love this dog so much, coming here was totally worth it just to meet this dog.
GIDEON: .........
JANET: Sorry, were you saying something?
GIDEON: Oh, just that a mysterious person seems to have dumped out all 50 boxes containing your father's papers and now fifty years' worth of documentation is in a disorganized heap on the floor, sorry about that!
JANET: .... WELL NOW I'M GLAD I HAVE A NEW DOG TO BURY MY FACE IN WHILE I PRIMAL SCREAM.

But, determined to push on, Janet gets fifty MORE boxes and decides to hire an assistant to help her achieve a semblance of archival order!

GIDEON: Perhaps you would like to hire Gwyneth, the local vicar's bitter daughter? She has a clubfoot and a very intense stare but people say she's very productive!
JANET: Gwyneth seems to have a crush on Gideon and a Bad Attitude, I have a very bad feeling about the fact that I've been guilted into hiring her!
BECCA, THE GENRE-SAVVY: Ah, yes, Gwyneth is definitely evil and we are definitely about to hit some seventies Gothic novel ablism up in here.

GWYNETH: Hey, it's nice to have a job again, my dad is sweet but I really appreciate having the chance to get out and about and exercise my professional skills!
JANET: Gwyneth, I cannot believe I had any doubts about hiring you. I abase myself. You are wonderful in literally every way.
BECCA, THE GENRE-SAVVY: ... my apologies for misjudging you, Isabelle Holland.

JANET: So, Gwyneth, what did you used to do in the big city before you came home to take care of your aging father?
GWYNETH: Oh, I worked for the British secret intelligence service. Bygone days!

Gideon, of course, also worked for the British secret intelligence service. And also the Israeli intelligence service. Because Gideon is not only a Welsh lord, who is also possibly a spy, but ALSO ... the child of a beautiful Jewish Holocaust refugee!

JANET: Oh, I'm so sorry to hear about all your mother's tragically dead relatives.
GIDEON: Really? Are you?
JANET: .... um?
GIDEON: Well, it's just your beautiful cousin Rosemary always gave me the impression that you were kind of shallow and didn't care about other people's suffering.
JANET: ........... thanks, Rosemary.
GIDEON: Well, isn't it true that you weren't super into your father and his Secret Society for World Domination Peace?
JANET: Oh, that's because my father was an asshole.
GIDEON: ... but aren't you spending all this time sorting out his papers and writing his biography?
JANET: Oh, that's because my dreamy boss is paying me a lot of money.

In between all this setup, there is of course time for the obligatory Gothic novel dramatic elements, like:

- the mysterious syringes Janet keeps spotting in Benedict's room and which Sheila puts down to Mysteriously Appearing Plot-Convenient Diabetes!
- the time that Janet finds a mysterious note in her room warning her to leave, which then disappears!
- the time that a car almost runs over Janet and Gwyneth!
- the time that someone takes potshots at Janet and Gideon in the woods!
- the time Janet goes up to the attic in the middle of the night looking for her dog and someone clocks her over the head!
- the time someone KIDNAPS THE DOG which is REALLY THE LAST STRAW


It turns out the person who kidnapped the dog and the person who clocked Janet over the head were both .... Gideon!

No, don't worry, he's still definitely the hero. He only did it to try to get Janet out of the way because he assumed she was a stooge of Janet's dreamy boss Tony, WHO, it turns out, murdered beautiful cousin Rosemary ... because she knew he had been blackmailed by Janet's father .... who was in a conspiracy to ABOLISH ISRAEL for the sake of WORLD PEACE!!!!

MEANWHILE, Roger was in a DIFFERENT conspiracy with evil nurse Sheila and her drug-addict doctor father to convince Gideon that Benedict was mentally unstable, then quietly murder him in the sanitorium, then murder Gideon, then inherit the whole creepy ancestral Welsh castle!!

Despite being involved in completely separate murder conspiracies Tony and Roger end up accidentally teaming up during a disastrous dinner party which ends with Gideon presumed dead in a car explosion, Benedict on his way to be murdered in the sanitorium, and Janet tied up in a room with a mysterious stranger while Tony and Roger helpfully explain to each other about their respective evil plots!

GIDEON: HAHA! I knew I would catch you if I just let you monologue at each other enough! This stranger in the room is my spy accomplice and he has recorded your entire conversation! All of this was part of my master plan!
JANET: .... was leaving your son on his way to be MURDERED also ... part of the plan??
GIDEON: ... no, I guess I sort of forgot that leaving him alone with the murderous murder governess was a bad idea. I also maybe should have taken steps before now to stop him be drugged repeatedly to simulate mental instability. But it's OK, we got him, it's fine! He'll be fine now!
JANET: So .... what was part of the plan?
GIDEON: Luring Tony here to take him down!
JANET: Ah, because he murdered your wife, my beautiful cousin Rosemary?
GIDEON: I mean, yeah, OK, I was a little bummed when she died, but mostly I wanted to take him down for my Jewish refugee mother ... and for Israel.

Which you would think is the weirdest reveal of this Gothic, BUT NO:

JANET: Um, OK! Well, it certainly is convenient for you that my father happened to leave you fifty boxes full of private papers full of possible blackmail material on Tony!
GIDEON: Oh, no, those papers are all fake! I painstakingly forged years' worth of semi-relevant documents, then mixed them in with fifty years' worth of old promotional materials, then dumped them all on the floor for you to spend months putting back in chronological order! :D

AND READER, YET SHE STILL MARRIED HIM.

(Well, made out with him at close of book. I don't think they actually get engaged or married on-page.)

At least she got to keep the dog.
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