Gothic Magic in the 21st Century: A Review of Alexandra Monir’s “Suspicion”

Suspicion, Alexandra Monir’s third novel, tells the story of Imogen Rockford, born to English nobility, but raised in New York City, who discovers a strange connection with her family’s estate, Rockford Manor, when she returns for the first time since the tragic accident that took her parents’ lives. Being a seventeen-year-old girl, Imogen also faces some of the surprises of new romance, all while learning how to navigate the world of twenty-first century nobility and the public eye. The author notes that her three main inspirations for the book were the novel Rebecca, the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and the world of the British aristocracy shown in Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey. There is also a song woven into the story, which you can hear Monir singing in the Youtube video below.

Monir’s Suspicion had all of the delightful elements of gothic stories that I love: big old houses, a young heroine with an active imagination, and a whole lot of mysterious figures and history. But unlike most gothic stories, and unlike a lot of the Hitchcock movies which sometimes seem to suggest an element of the supernatural where there is none, Monir does include actual magic in her novel, and for me, that took away some of the power in the gothic elements. I love, for example, in Northanger Abbey, when Catherine realized that even if General Tilney may have some serious faults, he is not the murderous husband/father she made him out to be in her mind. That shock of reality and grounding isn’t present in Suspicion, and that felt like its largest weak point for me, because it feels like one long fantasy.

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Imogen is a reasonably relatable character, but it felt like she was partly that way because I could never get a full sense of who she was. Imogen is trying to figure herself out, and so there wasn’t one clear thing for me as a reader to latch onto in who she was. Plus, as I mentioned, it is highly unlikely that any of us are going to wake up one day as a duchess with magical powers, so there is a stretch of imagination needed to really connect with Imogen as our heroine, in a way that felt strange to me because of the contemporary setting. All of that said, I raced through Suspicion in all of two days, and really did enjoy reading it. Was it a deep and contemplative text that I will want to carefully revisit some day in the future? Probably (almost definitely) not. But it certainly made for a fun read, especially for someone who is a fan of gothic storytelling, fantasy, and anything and everything British. One of the “advance praise” quotes I received along with my copy of Suspicion compared it to The Princess Diaries but with “magic, murder and mystery” and I think that is a pretty accurate description. I doubt anyone will be analyzing Suspicion in high school English classes twenty years from now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it in the moment. So if you’re looking for something to get you in the mood for the newest premiere of Downton Abbey, or you’ve always felt classics like Jane Eyre would do better with a little bit of magic, be sure to check out Alexandra Monir’s Suspicion.

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