Monday, November 30, 2009
What's a Monster to do?
How do you feel about things that go bump in the night? Me, not so good. I am a coward. I am Chief Coward from Cowardville. I avoid scary movies and scary books and scary people too. So...as much I was looking forward to reading Peter Ackroyd's new book The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein the F-word frightened me off a bit. But then the lure was too strong and I caved.
In this retelling of Frankenstein on that famous ghost story filled night when Mr and Mrs Shelley were staying with Byron and Mary thought up her monster, the monster was already there. Ackroyd places Victor Frankenstein among the guests. Frankenstein and Shelley are old friends having gone Oxford together. For all the visits the novel gets from the great men of the age, it's Victor's God playing life that is center stage.
Frankenstein's obsession to create a new man, a perfect man does and doesn't happen. He is of course able to give life to his corpse but it is a Monster he has created. Frankenstein isn't the only one in this new family who is disappointed. The Monster blames his creator for his unhappiness and cruelly destructive behavior. Not much new there. What Ackroyd does make new or at least brings back to the forefront is the tragedy of Mary Shelley's story.
While Casebook didn't have the appeal for me that other Ackroyd novels have like Chatterton and Dan Lemo and the Limehouse Golem or his amazing biographies of Charles Dickens and Thomas More, it is a very interesting book. It has Ackroyd's trade mark attention to research and literary references. Peter Ackroyd does make you smarter, but this time a little less fulfilled as well.