There’s not much to find out about The Forbidden by its stunning cover, nor its blurb on the reverse. All you get, is the idea of is that a character becoming possessed by a demon and that’s about it. But, it’s so much more than that. It’s worth prefacing this review by saying that if you’re at all offended by any themes or ideas that are seen in films such as The Exorcist or The Exorcism of Emily Rose, then this book isn’t for you. When F. R. Tallis isn’t using beautiful prose to explore the cities and villages of France, he is using it to depict human possession, grotesque imagery and other squeamish ideas.
The novel features Doctor Paul Clément as he tells the story of his life in the late 19th century. We begin as Clément takes a job in a hospital in Saint Sébastien and joins a friend on a late night expedition to witness local people attempting to find a man brought back to life after death. The book begins to explore the idea of Voodoo which is sadly later dropped in the plot but sets up Cléments downfall brilliantly. When the party and Clément find the young man he becomes witness to the decapitation of said “zombie” and his promise never to speak of what he saw becomes the key to what will unravel.
Clément then ventures back to Paris to begin work on the idea of a person’s heart being restarted after they have died. During his work he sees people describe Heaven when they are resuscitated and his goal becomes to find the truth about the afterlife. Clément makes the decision to stop his own heart and see for himself; however upon his “death” he sees a very different world of brimstone, fire and demons. When he comes around he lies to his colleagues about what he saw and we find that a demon has possessed him after a few nights previously he had told the story of what happened in Saint Sébastien.
My goodness that was quite the description… and that all happens in the first 100 pages! What follows is the account of how the demon controlled Clément’s life after that night. We watch as the demon controls his thoughts and turns someone who was once mild mannered into a monster that will stop at nothing for a depraved pleasure. This is where Tallis lets his imagination run wild and Clément begins to consider murder, violence and depraved sexual acts mere trivialities. Then Clément begins to change physically – his nails grow thick and sharp, he becomes sensitive to daylight and of course, anything religious is his Kryptonite. There’s also a pained love story heavily featured which I don’t want to talk about as it is brimming with spoilery material.
I could basically sit here and type out the plot because it’s one of those books where you want to discuss it and explore the different plot points. Suffice to say there’s an exorcism and Clément decides to leave Paris, literally carrying his burden inside a crystal ball in a reinforced trunk. Sounds ridiculous, no? It is, but that’s what is so entertaining about it because Tallis doesn’t use simple English to describe it all. The language is sweeping and detailed, it is beautiful even when it’s disgusting.
And Clément is a fascinating character to read. He has many dimensions and each one is appealing and endearing to the reader. From his battles with the demon to the charity he shows in the village where he resides he is charming, gentlemanly and above all fragile. We can love the character and want to protect him from what has controlled him.
I said on Twitter a little after I started it that I would be amazed if the rights weren’t picked up for a film version as the pacing, structure and imagination is very cinematic. It’s not just philosophical conversation, postulating about religion (of which there’s plenty) and character building, there’s bucketloads of action… and gore – although it goes a little too far in the ending for my liking and becomes just a little farcical. Also, it isn’t very scary as it relies quite heavily on tropes that we’ve seen umpteen times before.
Regardless, The Forbidden is a great little Gothic novel with a lovely balance between the sinister and philosophy. I was hooked while reading it and devoured it as fast as I could.
Published by Pan Macmillan. This book was kindly sent by the publisher for review.