Saturday, May 17, 2008

book review - Frankenstein


This is a classic by the definition of it having entered the global language associated with a man made monster but you wonder how many people have actually read the book by Mary Shelley.

In a way you almost don’t need to because of the numerous films and the handing down over campfires and bedtime stories of the basics of the story. The problem with steering clear of the actual book is that as a result you are not getting the original interpretation.

There are major differences. In the book Frankenstein’s creation hangs like a shadow over the story but it is rarely seen. Neither is it inherently evil from the start that happens because of the rejection it receives not just from man but also from its maker.

That sense of rejection and revenge drives a story that is not just about man’s desire to tinker with nature. This is clearly about the ambition for science to make mortals as powerful as Gods and the consequences are a warning. But it is also pointing a warning finger about vanity and the consequences that come from failing to face up to responsibilities. It sticks in the kind that when the monster has warned Frankenstein that he will be with him on his wedding night the scientist assumes he is the target and only when it is too late does he realise that he was not the victim.

The device for telling the story is at first misleading because it is told through the diaries and letters of a Polar explorer who is writing to his sister. His crew sight Frankenstein’s creation and then rescue the doctor and it is over the course of a few days, as it turns out counting down to the breakdown of his health and his death, that Frankenstein tells the story of his misery.

He accepts the blame for going too far and taking his arrogance to the extremes of creating life. He accepts that as the creature looks for revenge and kills his family that he is responsible for their murders and deaths. He also accepts that he has to spend the rest of his life tracking the monster until he has killed it.

The story then unfolds and the pace comes from the presence of the monster in the shadows to pop out occasionally with warnings and acts of death and violence.

Frankenstein would rather lose everyone than make a pact with the devil and deepen his crimes by creating another mate for his monster. That decision seals his fate.

One thing that you wonder is who actually wrote the book. You know from her preface that Mary Shelley had the idea in the famous moment when Byron and her husband dreamt up a way to kill the boredom of a rainy summer. But Mary implies that her husband is responsible for most of the text and there are several nods to other poets that often are unnecessary but feels like signposting of authorship.

In the end Mary Shelley had an idea that was timeless in its concept. Man will always try to bend the laws of nature for their own aims and if they do then the consequences could be as devastating as Frankenstein’s example. As you would expect the book is much better than the film.

Version read – Penguin popular classic paperback

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