Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Book Review

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

This is the classic. I've never had much interest in reading it, but then I sort of stumbled upon the idea of reading it. By accident.

I was browsing the large print section at the library, and a book caught my eye. I picked up "The Casework of Victor Frankenstein". It sounded familiar, but didn't register right away and I didn't immediately investigate. When it came time to start reading it, it was sounding very familiar to what I knew generally of the original Frankenstein story.

Then I looked up the book on the internet. It turns out that this author has a habit of rewriting classic stories. I had no interest in reading a rewritten classic! I certainly want to read the original before I decide whether or not to read a rewritten version. And then a friend said the original was good.

That was it.  I stopped reading "The Casework" I requested the original. I almost never stop reading a book without intending to finish it. This time, that is exactly what I did. I started reading the original.

Then at my daughter's Back to School Night, I learned what she will be reading this year. Guess what? She'll be reading Frankenstein soon! She'll also be reading Romeo and Juliet and The Odyssey.

I've read other books that have been her assigned reading; The Cay, Antigone, Watership Down, and others. I've already read Romeo and Juliet, but the The Odyssey has been on my list a very long time. Now I'm pumping it up on the list, so that I'll be reading it before or while she reads it.


According to some of the online information I was browsing through, some consider Frankenstein to be the first science fiction novel. Originally written in 1818, this book is old. It reads old. It sounds old. It feels old. It is rather slow reading, partly due to the writing style (aka old), and partly due to many of the words used (which are old).

The story didn't actually being quite what I expected. I guess I was expecting more "horror." In this case, the antagonist terrorizes the protagonist, but without the modern sense of horror. I would call this more suspense than horror. But there is also the element of science fiction involved. I label it as suspense more than anything else. There was no blood, no gore, no disgusting descriptions of guts, no depictions of physical torture. The murders are not described in any detail and don't leave me horrified. They just happen and then the suspense continues.

I was expecting more discussion on how Frankenstein makes his monster. I was expecting some description of how Frankenstein makes his monster. I would have settled for any depiction of how Frankenstein makes his monster. All we are told is that Frankenstein eagerly studies the sciences, progresses brilliantly, uses cadavers and creates life. His laboratory tools are mentioned in just that much detail. Laboratory tools. It is left to the reader to imagine what the tools might have been or what they might have looked like. Modern culture seems to have readily filled this gap.

At the same time, this lack of specific description is exactly how the story keeps from becoming immediately outdated. If specific methods and tools had been described in detail, they would have become antiquated very quickly and the story would have lost relevancy soon after being published. Instead, the vagueness here lends a sense of timelessness.

I was surprised to find that I have lived my life thinking that the monster's name is Frankenstein, but it is not. That is the name of the monster's maker. This appears to be a very common mistake, which was then nearly cemented in our culture with the 1931 film "Frankenstein." In fact, Victor Frankenstein never names his creation, but only refers to it variously as "monster," "fiend," "demon," and such. Refusing to name his creation, Frankenstein is denying that it has any identity of its own. Apparently, Shelley referred to the monster as "Adam."

I was disappointed in finding what appears to be a slight error of timing. Frankenstein (protagonist) arrives in London in December, but then just a few pages later, it is stated that he arrived in October. Fortunately, it doesn't appear to be a critical mistake, just annoying.

I was astonished and surprised to see the use of the phrase "... in cold blood..." used here. I wonder if this is the first use of it. This phrase has, of course, become quite common place and is even the title of a fantastic book by Truman Capote.

The initial presentation by the Arctic explore Watson feels very remote from the monster story, but it does come around in the end. This lead in to the monster story had me wondering about the actual story and made the story feel very old. Modern authors and publishers rarely do this now.

Obviously, this novel has been successful in becoming mainstream in our culture, despite the age of the story. I liked reading the story and learning that I was mistaken about the name of the monster. I found it slow going, but more enjoyable as it moved along. This is a worthwhile read for anyone who is interested in seeing what truly old science fiction is like. Enjoy!

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