“This place is damned.” – Mark Gulino, Upon the Pale Isle of Gloam: A Gothic Horror Novella
A DARK, atmospheric, often pensive narrative, Upon The Pale Isle Of Gloam: A Gothic Horror Novella by Mark Gulino, presents a moral tale about choices, accountability, and the possibility for redemption, but at what cost? The author delves into the theme of trauma, including loss and the ominous prognostication of more losses to come, as well as trust betrayed. It’s often ugly and violent; this is horror.
These are complex, often tricky tropes to engage with as a writer. Will the reader connect to a character’s pain and suffering? Will they empathize with the terrible circumstances that coloured their lives and formed the person they present openly, be they sympathetic or antagonistic? What about a character’s reaction to bad choices, theirs and others? Will the reader agree with all redemption arcs, whether the outcome is achieved or denied? Fate is often cruel and seldom fair. And does everyone deserve a chance at redemption? Can all things be forgiven—or perhaps, altered?
This is a writer’s puzzle to solve. And this author does so brilliantly.
From the beginning, the characters are washed ashore with murky backstories as memory is stolen by the eerie Isle, a forsaken place where daylight goes to die. Perhaps so does hope. The motives of the Isle’s prisoners are blurred, and loyalties are shaky. How does one escape this nightmare, let alone stay alive in it?! Who can you trust in this place of torment and horrors? Is a happy ending attainable or even merited?
In his novella, Gulino endeavours to answer these questions through the riveting deconstruction of his flawed characters and their life choices, particularly the pivotal moment in their lives, the fulcrum, that led them to such a mysterious, desolate isle. The author has the isle test not just his character’s survival skills and will to live, but their ability to trust in, and rely on, others. This is a sinister place that seems unmoored to time and space, perhaps even sanity. And that’s what makes this work such a captivating read.
Overall, the author has achieved the moral narrative he intended to showcase with this work. Sure, there may have been an intriguing character whose story was cut short. There may also be a question or two left unanswered, like why some visitors to the isle fare better than others in acquiring aid and companionship. Still, the story packs a wallop! And for the length of a novella, where a reader shouldn’t expect to have everything laid out for them in exhaustive detail, Gulino has more than provided a stylistically rich, haunting narrative that’s pure horror entertainment.
Gulino’s narration style is very in keeping with 19th-century literary work, especially gothic texts; it’s often quite formal and descriptive. Still, something that might give a reader pause is the author’s preference for florid language, mainly in the first half of the novella. Now, anyone who has read my work KNOWS I love descriptively rich text that evokes poignant imagery as one reads through the story. I wrote an earlier BLOG entry on it [See THE PROSAIC FORM CANNOT COMMUNICATE MY MEANING]. I don’t shy away from the occasional use of magniloquent vocabulary, though I realize it’s not for everyone.
There is a danger in placing these types of literary moments too close together, however: it can interrupt the reading flow if one has to look up words too often. And yes, there were two times I had to stop to look a word up, and it briefly took me out of the story. This type of writing is totally valid; it’s an author’s preference for story-telling. The only issue is that it can challenge your readership, and perhaps that’s the intention, but it can potentially limit your audience. But always be true to the type of writer you are, I say.
For lovers of the Gothic genre, Gulino writes very much in the vein of 19th-century Gothic masters such as Edgar Alan Poe and Sheridan le Fanu. There’s even a solid nod to Dante’s medieval opus, the Divine Comedy. Pale Isle of Gloam embraces and masterfully adapts many gothic tropes: oppressive darkness, a foreboding landscape, isolation, monsters and things unseen that haunt and hunt. The narrative excavates the hidden parts of a person’s tormented soul, exposing their darkest secrets and regrets.
In contemporary terms, think like this: Gulino’s Upon the Pale Isle of Gloam: A Gothic Horror Novella takes the best gothic aspects of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, adds to the mixture the complexity of female protagonists found in Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and filters them through the lens of a TV show like Lost. It’s spooky, engaging, and very often surreal as it explores human inner turmoil amid a haunting, supernatural backdrop.