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The Monk

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Matthew Lewis' only novel is one of the greatest works of literature in the English language. It was first published in 1796 and can lay claim to being the first real horror novel - there had been a few Gothic novels over the previous couple of decades, starting with Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto, and at the time of Lewis' book, Mrs Radcliffe was the most popular novelist in the country, but nothing came even close to Lewis' vision of horror.

Lewis was only nineteen when he wrote The Monk, and it took him only six weeks to produce a novel which in a modern edition runs to 350 pages. Both these facts are apparent from the book: it's a thoroughly undisciplined torrent of youthful fantasies and nightmares that is absolutely irresistible. Ideally you should read it when you're about eighteen (and, of course, be male), but if you've missed the boat on that one, have a go anyway.

The reason for including it here is that I adore this cover. The Bestseller Library was an imprint of Paul Elek Books of London, and this paperback came out in 1960. And indeed it looks more 1960 than 1796. Ain't those bones on the floor wonderful?

 I am told by a correspondent, Ms Jessica Warren, that my comment on the ideal gender for a reader is misguided, and that this book should be recommended equally to both boys and girls. Which I gladly do. Particularly since she also corrected my reference to Mr Lewis' age at the time of writing.

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