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The Teville Obsession by Caroline Stafford
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[Contains no spoilers.]

The Teville Obsession by Caroline Stafford

Thanks to AliceChell (who seems to have disappeared) for recommending this book. Stafford is a new discovery and I will definitely go on to read whatever other books of hers I can find.

The Teville Obsession follows the familiar pattern of a young woman who finds herself faced with a choice between a Cinderella-like life of servitude to wealthier relations and a marriage of convenience to a mysterious aristocrat. Having chosen the latter (who wouldn't?), Melanie Somers is soon off to Wales with the brooding Mark Trecourt (the Baron Teville), who divulges with total candor that he is Haunted by a Past.

(A side-note here: I do not consider 'Melanie Somers' a suitable name for a gothic heroine. I don't know if the name Melanie was much in use in 19th-century England, but it feels awfully out-of-place to me. Call me prejudiced, but I had a hard time not wincing every time the heroine's name was mentioned throughout the book.)

The story is competently laid-out and we are introduced to a supporting cast of characters, each of whom, it transpires, might have a motive for wishing Mark's misfortune and, by proxy, Melanie's as well. There are the usual attempts on the heroine's life, and unlike in other gothics, the author does not make the mistake of keeping the heroine in a state of denial or ignorance about these attacks, although at times Melanie's reasons for keeping incidents to herself are a bit contrived.

The climax of the story is sufficiently suspenseful and satisfying, although what Stafford gives Melanie in the way of courage and fortitude she robs from Mark, who in the end seemed a rather witless drama queen of a hero. I felt that Melanie deserved better.

As with so many novels in this genre, I would have liked the "gothic" element to be much more pronounced. There never seems to be quite enough gothic going on. While the action was handled reasonably well, the atmosphere was scanty. I felt that Caroline Stafford could have amplified the underlying tension and brooding mystery in her story with a good dose of gothic mood-setting, but there was little attention spared to this aspect of the novel. I would have gladly traded a little of the "romance" (which, I daresay, waxed a bit stagey at times) for more gothic tone.

I'm not altogether comfortable with quantitative ratings systems for books, but for the sake of clarity, here's a simple breakdown of my response to The Teville Obsession:

(1=unreadable; 10=ideal)

NARRATIVE: 7
ACTION: 8
CHARACTERIZATION: 6
MOOD/ATMOSPHERE: 4
PERIOD AUTHENTICITY: 7
DENOUEMENT/RESOLUTION: 7
OVERALL: 6.5
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