Author: F. R. Tallis, 2012.
Genre: Historical Horror Fiction. Eroticism. Medicine. Mental Illness.Drugs. Magic and Demonology.
Other Details: Hardback. 378 pages
“Superstition. Possession. Hell on Earth..." cover blurb, The Forbidden
In 1872 idealistic young doctor Paul Clément takes a position at the mission hospital on the Caribbean island of Saint Sébastien with the hope of discovering cures for tropical diseases. While there he encounters the dark native magics that claim to be able to revive the dead. He is told that it is forbidden to speak of what he has seen but being a man of science shrugs this off as superstition. He returns to Paris with an interest in resuscitation and begins to study the nervous system under Jean-Martin Charcot and explores the idea of using a jolt of electricity to restart the heart. Hearing from patients who have been brought back to life of their visionary experiences of what seems to be heaven, he elects to undertake a daring experiment on himself. However, the outcome of the experiment is unexpected as he appears to have brought back an ancient evil that begins to infect his life. Is he going mad or has he unleashed a demon from hell onto earth?
Having enjoyed Tallis' other historical novels that often flirted with the occult, I was pleased to find that he had elected to write a work of supernatural horror. Tallis writes that the direct inspiration was the 19th century French occult novel Là-Bas (The Damned) by J.K. Huysmans and also cited Justine by the Marquis de Sade and Guy de Maupassant's stories as other influences. He also mentions the more recent writings of the British writer Dennis Wheatley whose Library of the Occult series published Là-Bas and other classics of horror and occult fiction from 1974 to 1977.
All of these influences, including de Sade's, are evident though novel's overall tone did remind me most of Wheatley's occult novels that I had happily devoured in the early 1970s. Tallis certainly captured that sense of a rational man being drawn into the dark arts despite himself and becoming morally overwhelmed. Tallis' ability to evoke his historical settings has always been a strong appeal of his fiction and here is no exception as he brings 19th century Paris and France alive.
I found this tale of demonic possession quite a controlled work despite its often explicit scenes of sex and violence though this suited its first person narration by an essentially uptight 19th century doctor clinging to rationality in the face of the supernatural. Tallis is obviously a huge fan of this kind of tale of occult horror and the novel served as an homage. As a fellow fan I certainly enjoyed his foray into this area.
Frank Tallis' page on 'The Forbidden'. contains a short essay on writing the novel.