The Carbuncle of Giamschid

I usually write favorable reviews of most of the books I read, but this will be an exception. My review won’t hurt the author, as he died in 1844, unloved and unlamented. William Beckford’s Vathek was originally written in French by this British writer and translated into English by another.

It is an oriental fantasy, which means it is lush with weird details and productive of much wretched excess. One reads along this piece of overripe Turkish delight and comes across a sentence like this:

In the morning, which was lowering and rainy, the dwarfs mounted high poles like minarets, and called them to prayers. The whole congregation, which consisted of Sutlememe, Shaban, the four eunuchs, and some storks, were already assembled.

What in coruscating blue blazes were those storks doing there? There is no reason for their existence except to add some local color. And what about Sutlememe, Shaban, and the four eunuchs? Details without a reason for their existence is nothing less than a form of literary cancer. Instead of being organic to the story, the whole thing comes across as a massive inorganic blob.

Characters come on the scene and subplots are born without any reason for their existence:

Dread lady, you shall be obeyed; but I will not drown Nouronihar; she is sweeter to me than a Myrabolan comfit, and is enamoured of carbuncles, especially that of Giamschid, which hath also been promised to be conferred upon her; she therefore shall go along with us, for I intend to repose with her beneath the canopies of Soliman; I can sleep no more without her.

In the end, one feels as if one has swallowed whole a Myrabolan comfit and choked on it.

Read it if you dare, but be prepared to shove the Carbuncle of Giamschid where the sun doesn’t shine. God knows, I did!