The Suicide Club by Robert Louis Stevenson, reviewed by Kimberly Warner-Cohen

Set in his contemporary London and Paris, the interrelated set of three short stories is one of Stevenson’s earliest works, and dabbles in what would be his later affection for the Victorian macabre and suspense to rival only Poe.

At 59 pages, Suicide Club (Dover Thrift Edition’s subtitle, “Unabridged”, seems like a poor attempt at cleverness) is a quick read. Set in his contemporary London and Paris, the interrelated trio of sketches is one of Stevenson’s earliest works, and dabbles in what would be his later affection for the Victorian macabre and suspense to rival only Poe.
“Young Man with the Cream Tarts” opens and is the strongest of the three. In it, the Prince of Bohemia is bored and disguises himself as a commoner to mingle with the lower classes, where he encounters a man giving away pastries. He follows what he first imagines is a joke, but then discovers it is the pretence for an entrance into the secret Suicide Club. The group is hiding in plain view of proper society, where the prince and his guard witness what happens when one member takes the rules too lightly.
“Physician and the Saratoga Trunk” is about an American residing in the Latin Quarter who is taken with a woman with the exotic name Zephyrine. He is invited to a ball by an anonymous admirer, which leads to an unfortunate encounter. In “Adventure of the Handsom Cab” a lieutenant is picked up by a strange carriage on a lonely London street and dropped off at a stranger address.
The main issue with Suicide Club is Stevenson’s ambitiousness with the plots in the second and third stories, forcing contrived circumstances to tie up loose ends instead of delving into the far more interesting character construction he’s set up. Still, with lines like, “Now, we know that life is only a stage to play the fool upon as long as the part amuses us”, it’s not a bad way to pass a rainy afternoon.

Share