Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Eighth Circle of Hell by Gary Dolman

My Thoughts

“Make no mistake: pain of the mind - pain of the very soul itself - can be every bit as insufferable as any other pain, and oftentimes, even more so”.

The Eighth Circle of Hell is a unique story, but not one for the faint hearted. It tells the story of an aging lady who had suffered great abuses at the hands of a family member, “A Great Philanthropist” in the 1800‘s. The reader learns of all that she (Lizzie) endured through her memories. Dementia is setting in trapping her mind and forcing her to live in the past, reliving her early years - a time when “Defloration Mania” was rife and the victims of the craze were invisible to society. It’s not my normal story, I generally prefer a much happy circumstance to a tale.

My interest in this book was piqued by the cover, a broken dolls head that could possibly have been glued back together? The sepia tones alluding to the time in which the book was set, it was perhaps also an indication of the something soiled and sullied. Combine this with the incongruity of the title The Eighth Circle of Hell... it had me wondering how it would all tie together.

The book had a blissfully slow start, and I think it needed to be so. There was enough detail to have you wondering if Elizabeth (Lizzie) would really be safe returning to the home of her tormentor. Enough detail revealed to warn the reader, that going back would surely result in nothing good, and a slow enough pace, that not too much of a harrowing nature was revealed too quickly. “We only have one life, and surely everyone deserves at the very least for it to be bearable”. Lizzie’s life was far from bearable, but thankfully the reader is not overwhelmed by this reality.

There are many great quotes in this book, Gary Dolman, the author, turns a nice phrase and used particular phrases to great effect in the story. His use of the term “A Great Philanthropist” to describe the most heinous of child abusers, was ingenious. Everyone considered Alfred Roberts to be “A Great Philanthropist”, but each time he was described as such, it was usually preceding or following a revelation of yet another great abuse that he inflicted upon a poor helpless child. Strangely the more that descriptor was used, the more it amplified a totally opposite meaning and the more I tasted the bile in my throat.

Some points in the negative... :(
Early in the story, I found myself getting confused between the characters. Mr. Fox was suddenly referred to as Atticus, Mrs Fox was Lucie, There were a plethora of the Roberts’ family being discussed as well as the nurses, governess’ and friends of Lizzie whose names seemed to coalesce. At times I struggled to keep them all straight.
Why would the quote “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” be emblazoned across the annexe door, an entry way to the philanthropic orphanage. I understand that this was also the entrance to a “Gentlemans Club”, and I found it hard to believe that no one would have questioned the juxtaposition this created, even if “There’s many a dark secret to be found lurking behind the prettily-painted doors of the well-to-do”.
The story occasionally flicked between scenes with little in the way of a transition and whilst I understand that this is probably a relevant technique as it enhances the reminisces  of a disturbed mind, I did find it disconcerting.

My final thought on this tale, is to wonder again at the importance of the title. The reason for it becomes clear in the telling of the tale. Dante’s Inferno is “composed of nine circles, each circle being full of worse sinners than the last. Now the eighth of these nine circles contained, amongst other, seducers and seductresses.”  This is Lizzie’s Hell. But I would speculate that it is much more profound than even that...for me references to hell and circles also alludes to the potential for any abused soul to have to relieve their trauma in their advanced years through dementia. It’s a sobering thought. “The pain slowly dies to a throbbing ache, deep down in her belly. It dies everywhere, that is, except within her soul. There it will live on forever and grow stronger and stronger and stronger”.

For myself, I think I will treat the old and feeble of mind with a little more sensitivity, who knows what it is they are reliving in the minutes we spend with them?

***  “A scream is a scream whatever the language”: Elizabeth Wilson, whilst in her Eighth Circle of Hell. 

My Rating


This review is totally unsolicited. I bought the story and chose to review it. The opinions expressed are my own. I don’t really like the concept of rating novels as they are subjective and subject to change. A five star book today, may be re-evaluated when compared to future novels.


The Victorian age is often held up as a shining era of British history, a time of wealth and power, of civilisation and philanthropy. It was all of these. Yet it was also a time of cruelty and depravity, where power and wealth were used to ill-purpose. It was the time of the 'defloration mania', where young girls were bought and sold like the slaves they became.

Elizabeth Wilson is an elderly woman who has spent a lifetime of grinding toil and poverty in a workhouse. She fled there as a young girl, pregnant and penniless, to escape her depraved uncle and his powerful friends. However, advancing dementia has caused her to regress inexorably back in her life, to the point where she is once again re-living the awful memories of her life as an orphaned child.

'The Eighth Circle of Hell' is a bleak study of the stark contrast between the polite, strictly ordered society of the Victorian age, and the utter depravity and exploitation of the vulnerable it shielded. This story demonstrates how in the furnace of shared adversity, enmities and friendships can be forged that will last a lifetime, and which are more enduring than the boundaries of life and death.

The Author

I was born in Gateshead on South Tyneside, England but have lived for most of my life in North Yorkshire, England. 

I've always been a voracious reader but have latterly come to write too. The catalyst was a succession of difficult personal circumstances.

My debut novel, 'The Eighth Circle of Hell,' was recently published by Thames River Press, (Anthem Press). It is set in the Defloration Mania of Victorian Britain, probably the greatest scandal in British social history.

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