My interest in the horror genre, gothic or otherwise, is slim. I’ve read a few of the classics like Frankenstein and some well known short stories by Edgar Allen Poe and Roald Dahl but that’s it. The Lifted Veil intrigued me because it isn’t what one would expect from George Eliot. Firstly, I’ve never known her (In case you didn’t know, Eliot is a woman. Her real name was Mary Ann Evans) to dabble in the paranormal before and secondly, this is a novella, from a writer who is known for HUGE books with multiple storylines and a gazillion characters.
The story begins with Latimer, the narrator, predicting his own death in chilling detail. He knows when and how he will die and he knows exactly how it’s going to feel. From here on, we travel back in time with Latimer to when he was a little boy, adored by his mother and ignored by his father and step brother. Physically and mentally weak, Latimer is forced into studies he does not enjoy and finally sent to Geneva. While there, he falls gravely ill. He survives the illness, only to realise that it has changed something within him. He can now look into the future and into people’s souls. To Latimer, this ability is a curse that makes him privy to the tortured souls of everyone around him and alienates him even more from his near ones. The turning point comes when he sees and falls in love with Bertha, his brother’s prospective wife. The cunning and coquettish Bertha manages to keep her soul hidden from Latimer. He has a peek into their future and what he sees there horrifies him. But seeing the future doesn’t mean he can change it.
The story is pretty fast paced and well executed. It reminds me of Frankenstein in a way, mostly because both stories are narrated, in first person, by their tormented protagonists. Eliot manages to create an eerie atmosphere and a sense of impending doom from the very first page onwards. However, it is very hard to sympathise with any of the characters, not even the wretched protagonist. His constant lamentations about his weakness start to get a bit tiresome after a while. But this is just me nitpicking really. Overall, the story makes the impact that it is aiming for. While it is more ‘Supernatural’ than ‘Horror’, it does manage to give you goosebumps.