Book Review: Frankenstein

A Book Review

Melissa Fortuin

Book name: Frankenstein

Author: Mary Shelley

Year Published: 1818

Genre: Gothic, Horror

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble!

I think I’m quoting the wrong author, and the quote itself is incorrect, but who doesn’t like all things ghoulish and shadowy? Besides my misplaced Macbeth quote, no it is not Halloween, but instead of reading anything light-hearted and jovial, I decided to explore an author that always gets me thinking about what on Earth I have accomplished in my small life!

While we were discovering the fresh and unknown mysteries of sudden adult freedom, while booking tickets for drinking festivals and beach side high school vacations, an eighteen-year-old by the name of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (I dare you to say this ten times faster 100 times) had her head bent down, feather working tirelessly (or pen… Were pens invented then?) creating what would become as influential a novel as the modern creation of the microwave oven. Its influence is splashed across movie screens and cartoons. Countless mindless creatures of immoral invention, with limited vocabulary and a giant screw in the head to such an extent, that of course you have seen the proverbial “Igor”. Despite this being a tale of horror and monstrous beings, this is not a story that aims to simply terrorize us. Although, by modern standards “terror” is over reaching, what in an age of watching masked figures surgically slice into unwilling victims on TV screens. The audience of back then may have not been as cavalier concerning this novels contents, added by only a single darting candle flame burning with which to read this strange story. I can feel the wall shadows growing as the candle flame descends upon itself. Although the scary elements may seem all together as menacing as a lake duck trying to forcefully grab your picnic lunch, this book is not really as it seems. The monsters are not really the ones who at first glance look like monstrosities.

Mary Shelley was born in London during the late 18th century, to an author and a philosopher. Her mother died during child birth and growing up with her father she was surrounded by peers of high intellectual breeding. This was the foundation upon which her love of writing was birthed. What began as a challenge by her friend and fellow poet Lord Byron, to see who amongst his friends could write the best horror story, was the beginning of Frankenstein. If you’re amused that her last name is coincidentally the same as the poet of Ozymandias Percy Bysshe Shelley, well it’s because later she would become his wife under some rather tasteless circumstances. I should also add that for years upon mention of the story there was a misconception about who indeed was Frankenstein. No my dear people, Frankenstein is not the monster’s name! Victor Frankenstein is the name of the scientist! The monster is simply Frankenstein’s monster. I am saying this for the benefit of anyone who wants to pretend in any intellectual circle that they have read this work, ha! Calling the monster Frankenstein is a dead giveaway my dear. At least wipe the crumbs off your face before claiming you did not eat the churches’ after-service cake, or better yet read this before its time science fiction novel!

Here’s some plot to butter your bread just enough, but not both sides. The novel is told from several frames, that being from recounts by Captain Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and eventually by the “fiend” or monster itself. Captain Walton regales to his sister through a series of letters, how during a daring trip of exploration into the North Pole he discovered the emaciated figure of Victor Frankenstein pursuing a large hulking creature over the frozen landscape. After rescuing the scientist, Victor begins to warn him about shunning contentment in order to pursue greater ambitions. He tells as a student of the sciences, he had discovered a method in which to reanimate inanimate materials, and playing God by doing the impossible: recreating life. Victor builds a human body, but is unable to successfully put together the smaller more intricate parts. This results in a “vile” and hideous creature, humanoid in certain features, but much unlike a human in detail, unlike the handsome features he had planned. Appalled by his creation, he abandons the creature and leaves it to its own devices. This however is not the end of his woes, as upon his return he discovers the creature has escaped. Out in the world the creature tries to seek comfort in companionship but soon learns the harsh realities of the world and is rejected due to his appearance. Frankenstein soon becomes the object of our creature’s obsession, who now resorts to evil, murder and revenge in order to quell the emotions borne from the world’s misgivings.

As I’ve said before this novel is more than a horror story. In it, it carries many themes including the allegory of the monster being like Adam. The monster was created by Frankenstein, but shortly abandoned, and so comes the question. Who is really to blame for the creature’s eventual final turn? Was it Victor’s responsibility to take charge of him? Is evil or good nature’s taught or innate? Was it fair or vain for people to be judgmental of the monster’s appearance? Did the monster ever stand a chance, since he was never even named, and thus a real identity never bestowed on him? And finally, there is the line between victim and monster being blurred. Who was really the evil ones? Was it Victor, his monster, or society itself? I’ll leave the conclusions up to you because this book certainly made me ask a lot of questions, and really had me thinking about the nature of life, what we truly define as life or sentient, and considering all our modern scientific advancements sometimes how far is just too far?

I hope this novel can encourage the gears in your heart and mind to start working overtime as well. It’s truly not just another horror piece, and really delves into the deeper darker natures of our human race. Oh and suddenly the perfectly fitting quote does come to mind:

“It’s alive!”

Happy reading folks.