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Art of Gothic by Natasha ScharfThe Art of Gothic, by Natasha Scharf (Omnibus Press, 2014)

Natasha Scharf’s first book, Worldwide Gothic, was enough of an achievement – gathering material, much of it via interviews, on the development of the Goth scene not just in the UK but far beyond it – but this second volume, if perhaps less wildly ambitious in scope, manages an even greater success. It aims to look at what Goths produce and consume that expresses their nature as Goths, going far beyond the obvious confines of music and fashion; when most books on the subject refer to ‘Gothic art’ they mean high art, the kind that finds its way into art galleries, whereas The Art of Gothic avoids all that (Anne Sudworth excepted) in favour of applied art. While there are a lot of record sleeves on display within its pages, the book manages to include novel covers, jewellery, toys and even furniture. The author tries to distinguish the various streams of reference and influence which feature in Goth produce, and while others might draw the lines differently, her account is pretty persuasive. It’s helped by the glorious design work of Paul Palmer-Edwards of Grade Design, who makes this book a sumptuous visual artefact in its own right: it’s no more than justice that he gets a credit. Perhaps the most valuable element of all are the interviews with a range of ‘subcultural producers’ which inform several of the subject-chapters: the account of how the chaps who run Alchemy Gothic got going (and in fact how they actually make things) is rather wonderful. This makes The Art of Gothic an important work in terms of oral history as much as anything else, Ms Scharf becoming a spiritual heir to the curators and researchers of the mid-twentieth century who hunted out the oldest local craftsman they could to explain how to make a Windsor chair or a woven basket (it isn’t always clear whether a particular text has originated in an interview or not, however). In fact, I would dare to suggest that every academic member of the International Gothic Association should take note of this book, because it tells you what people actually do with Gothic. The author’s style is clear, relaxed and confident, even if the word ‘iconic’ does pop up quite a lot, making The Art of Gothic a very pleasurable read. This is a massive, glossy, heavy hardback (almost a foot square) but pound-for-pound it’s worth anyone’s money. In what I do hope is a new trend, it has a careful, comprehensive index. Alleluia!

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