Skip to main content

Review: The Nebuly Coat, by John Meade Falkner

Originally published in 1903, The Nubuly Coat is a rare book—yet it influenced the novels of so many other writers of Gothic fiction. The story opens when a young architect named Westray comes to the village of Cullerne to oversee the restoration of the old Norman church. The town itself is populated by an interesting array of characters: Mr. Sharnall the organist, who believes that a hidden specter with a hammer is out to kill him; the Rector and his wife, who seem as though they stepped out of an episode of Keeping Up Appearances.

There are also Miss Joliffe, the landlady; and her teenage niece, Anastasia, who seems surprisingly mature for her age. We’re also introduced to, although not at firsthand, Martin Joliffe, who for many years before his death believed that he was the rightful heir of the Blandamer family fortune. There’s also Lord Blandamer, the mysteries local squire, who keeps his distance from the rest of the town, though his family insignia, the “nebuly coat” of the title, covers everything in Cullerne. The townspeople are both in awe and contemptuous of him.

It’s hard to characterize this novel. Mystery? Thriller? There’s a murder here, but the mystery never gets solved. But there’s definitely a suggestion of a solution. I was a little disappointed in that, but the atmosphere of the tale was sufficiently chilling enough that I really got into it. It’s not an “easy” read, and it took about 20 pages for the story to get going, but Gothic fiction is really my thing. It’s easy to see why this novel influenced writers such as Dorothy Sayers and her The Nine Tailors.

There’s a lot here about church music and church politics, but it doesn’t burden the story. Falkner’s strength was characterization; he’s a master of using even the finest of brushstrokes to depict his characters, and he’s at his best when describing people at their best… and worst. He’s also very, very funny in places. This novel’s been on my TBR list for a long time, and it puzzles me as to why this book isn’t more widely available; it’s a classic.


I'm also a big fan of Gothic fiction and I hadn't heard of this one. It sounds most intriguing! Off to add to my wishlist now...
Kristen M. said…
I've gone looking for this one and had trouble finding a copy. I guess I need to try harder because it sounds interesting!
Eva said…
And on to the wishlist it goes! Great review! :)
blinker1_2000 said…
Hi Katherine, I am new to your site and discovered it while looking for information about this strange and intriguing novel, which I just finished. Great review. You're right -- why isn't this better known?!
I did come away a bit confused about the exact family lineage... But didn't want to post about it here for fear of spoilage. If you are willing to engage in a bit of discussion about this, is there a way to contact you privately? At any rate, thanks again for the review!

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy:, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy:, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…