Review of The Weird O't by M. P. Shiel
The Academy and Literature, December 13, 1902, p. 657
IF any single statement can be made positively of the erratic and unreliable author of "Prince Zaleski" and "The Purple Cloud," it is that he has style. Yet in this excessively wordy novel of between seven and eight hundred pages we have discovered not more than three or four sentences to support that assertion. Mr. Shiel is a writer of originality and undeniable power; he might, if he happened to find himself in the proper mood for a sufficient length of time, produce a masterpiece of fanciful, tempestuous fiction. "The Purple Cloud," had it kept throughout to the level of its best, would have been such a masterpiece. But parts of "The Purple Cloud" were crude, weak, and artistically vicious.
"The Weird O't" on the whole resembles, we are afraid, the worst parts of its predecessor. It comprises the history of several families, and touches hastily on most things in modern life, from Easter magic and snobbery to the craft of Sherlock Holmes, and the institution (chiefly fictional) of the mariage blanc. We could not attempt even a hint of the plot, complex with, literally, hundreds of intricate and breathless episodes. The book is decidedly not good, but it could only have been written by a man who was capable of writing a good book. It does not convince. It never once convinces. The characters do not live; the observation is awry, and the emotion is factitious. It reads as if it had been dashed off in a fury of scribbling, in the night, as Count Fosco dashed off a floorful of little white sheets covered with large calligraphy in "The Woman in White."
Quite three times during his career Mr. Shiel has aroused interest and some enthusiasm in the hopeful bosoms of those who watch for talent. But "The Weird O't" is in our opinion a failure. It is deeply and essentially wrong. It induces tedium, and then annoyance, while a sense of the author's capacity is never absent. We cannot account for its amazing length, nor for sundry other of its qualities. To have read it is to have the illusion that one has read it in a nightmare.
Transcribed by Victor A. Berch
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