Sunday, December 13, 2009

Book Review: "The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein"

Peter Ackroyd's The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2009) is a retelling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein story through the eyes of the creator himself. While I need to re-read the original to be sure, it seems clear that some license has been taken with the plot of that novel, and with the biographical details of the Shelleys themselves. They appear here, of course, as Ackroyd brings Frankenstein into their orbit and moves him to England where he carries out his "researches."

Ackroyd presents us with the background to Frankenstein's pursuit of the "stuff of life," including his early queries at Oxford and his interests in electricity, galvanism, and other scientific inquiries. His depiction of the workings of the "resurrection men," who find and deliver the bodies Frankenstein uses for his experiments, is delightfully morbid, but the final experiment itself is absolutely repulsive (Ackroyd's creative power is on full display here - the sequence gave me the willies).

The creature itself figures in no small way here, as it pursues Frankenstein in search of revenge and fulfillment. Or, does it? I'll spare the spoilers, but the last few pages will have you thinking deeply about gothic fiction and narrative authority.

I had trouble getting into the novel at the start, but once the action got going I was hooked, and read through the last 200 pages in a single sitting. Gripping stuff, even if it turns some of our ideas about Frankenstein and his monster on their heads. Good for a nice long winter afternoon.

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