Review: O Caledonia

Today it’s my turn to tell you about one of the books I read in August, when I took a course on Gothic literature in Edinburgh.


Gothic emerged in Great Britain during the 18th century and remained quite popular during the 19th century. Film and television during the 20th century made it possible for the genre to survive and even expand its audience. We all have heard of Frankenstein; we remember Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights; we’ve just seen Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester in the newest adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre; we think of Christopher Lee (I also think of Leslie Nielsen) when we hear the name Dracula, and even if we haven’t read anything by him, we all know who Edgar Allan Poe is. In short, this genre is still very much alive.

During my time in Edinburgh I was surprised to discover that the Gothic genre is actually one of my favorites. I realized that many of the books I’ve enjoyed the most are either Gothic or have several Gothic elements in them. You won’t find them all on the blog, though, because I didn’t have it when I read them.

Our course focused more on contemporary Scottish Gothic, which is why I read the books I read. I have to confess that I had to read a third novel, but exams, homework and other books prevented me from doing so. Don’t tell my teacher.

But enough about that. It’s time to talk about the actual book, but before that, here’s a picture that sums up most of the elements of Gothic fiction (I don’t think it evokes fear):

O Caledonia, by Elspeth Barker

O Caledonia tells the story of Janet, a Scottish girl with a vivid imagination and a horrible family. With an unloving mother, a clueless father and some pretty annoying siblings, Janet’s short journey through life is full of rejection, exclusion and depression.

It is clearly a dark novel and from the very first page we learn that it will not have a happy ending, at least not in the traditional sense. I must say that when I started reading it I didn’t like it very much, but the more I read, the more I involved I became with the story and the characters. Janet was lonely and misunderstood and had to endure some horribly painful situations, and I just wanted to give her a hug. The book has some bizarrely humorous episodes, which, although bizarre, made me laugh quite a lot.

In short, I quite enjoyed this little book and I do think it’s recommendable. That said, I don’t think it’s for everyone. This read is, to some extent, a psychological journey through the mind of a teenage girl eclipsed by life. Recommended only for those who enjoy Gothic novels and dark stories (not to mention depressing).

  My edition:  Kindle edition.
My edition: Kindle edition.
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