Vathek by William Beckford


cover182066-mediumVathek, written in 1782, is a gothic novel that chronicles the fall from power of the Caliph Vathek, who renounces Islam and pursues a series of unspeakable activities designed to gain him supernatural powers. Instead of acquiring these powers, Vathek descends into a hell ruled by the fallen angel Eblis where he is doomed to wander endlessly.

I once wrote a paper on Vathek in high school during a time when I was immersing myself in horror literature. Re-reading it now, I am amazed that my English teacher allowed me to read it, given that I was a student in an all-girls Catholic school.

As Joe Lansdale says in the introduction, Vathek doesn’t exactly age well. The writing is typical of the time – flowery, overblown, and full of wonderful words one does not see in modern writing. Lonsdale also notes that William Beckford is rumored to have written this story over the course of three alcohol (and probably drug) soaked days. I can see how that could be true.

Reading this requires close attention but is well worth the effort. The story is still as sinister as I found it back in 1981. Vathek is, at his core, a narcissist who wants what he wants, when he wants it, and bends the truth to suit his reality. We’re all familiar with that today.

My library will likely not buy this as it still owns a copy of an older edition, and I doubt this newer version will gain much traction. However, publish a graphic novel version of this story and I think modern readers would gobble it up.

Publication Date: August 18, 2020
Published By: Poisoned Pen Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy