It saddens me that I had this novel in my library for two years before I even opened it. I'm in awe of how masterfully written this story was and to learn that Matthew Lewis was only 20 years old upon writing it... simply astonishing. Comedic, terrifying, romantic, disturbing, shocking, gravitational, intriguing, and profound are just a few of the words I would use to describe this masterpiece. Rarely have I ever delved into a book and felt such a magnetic attraction from page to hand that rendered me unable to put it down. Consisting of approximately 400 pages (in my edition) I read it in its entirety in 3 days.
With many intriguing subplots there is always something happening to the main characters and it always ends up involving each other in some way. The main characters are Lorenzo, Raymond, Agnes, Antonia, Ambrosio, and Matilda (Rosario). Each are introduced at an appropriate pace. I have read complaints about the number of characters in the book and how it becomes convoluted but I disagree. As each of their stories slowly overlap they become easy to maintain independently.
I have learned that it is folly to read reviews of a book before reading it yourself. No one interprets a single book exactly the same and the reviews of this book were in every direction. Interpretations spanned the length of pages attempting to decipher the hidden messages of the story, from an attack against the Spanish Inquisition to an attack on Christianity itself. In no way did I even remotely come to a similar conclusion. I believe a lot of critics should listen to Hemingway when he stated the following regarding the Old Man and the Sea:
Then there is the other secret. There isn't any symbolysm [sic]. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The shark are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.
To sum up the book in my personal interpretation: The Monk is a story about how any one can be easily corrupted. All it takes is a little time and patience and even the most revered will succumb to vice. Would your will be strong enough to reject the temptations in which Ambrosio could not? From the upmost piety to selling your soul to the devil himself. Some of us fall harder than others.
I rate this story a 5 out of 5. This is a story that, upon finishing, will have you sitting and thinking for an hour in complete silence. The ending comes at you fast and the whole story comes to a great and justified, yet shocking conclusion. Agnes story was very difficult to get through and was probably the most disturbing portion of the book for me. How she managed to speak so eloquently while retelling her traumatic story was unbelievable. I couldn't recommend this book enough. On a different note, why hasn't the story of the bleeding nun been made into a movie!? That legitimately gave me the creeps!
Raymond! Raymond! Thou art mine!
Raymond! Raymond! I am thine!
In thy veins while blood shall roll,
I am thine!
Thou art mine!
Mine thy body! Mine thy soul!