Friday, January 22, 2010

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, by Peter Ackroyd


A word of warning: this is not a take on the Dean Koontz version (which truthfully, I've never read and have no desire to ever read), nor will you find anything even remotely connected to James Whale's 1931 film.  This is Peter Ackroyd's retelling of Shelley's classic in his own postmodern sort of way. Actually, in this novel, Victor Frankenstein is a real person.  Included among his best friends is Percy Bysshe Shelley, and through him, Victor meets up with other Romantic-era superstars: Lord Byron, Byron's personal physician Dr. Polidori (writer of a small novella you may have heard of: The Vampyre), and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the author of Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus)  herself. 

Ackroyd has written this novel in the same period voice as that of Shelley, and like Shelley, his Frankenstein succeeds in the reanimation of a corpse who is conscious that he is dead and angry at his reanimator for not leaving him to his peaceful rest. Like Shelley's work, Frankstein's creation doggedly trails him.  Yet, much is obviously going to be a bit different in Ackroyd's version, and these differences lead up to an ending that truthfully I didn't see coming, although it made total sense.

Ackroyd's attempt at re-envisioning  Shelley's classic interweaves his excellent descriptions of historical London with modern psychological insight into human nature to produce a rather chilling and haunting work. The same themes of Shelley's book apply here --  if you haven't read her novel, I'd start with that one and then try this one -- so in that particular sense, Ackroyd's book doesn't really come up with something new, but it's the way he re-presents this material that is different. His writing is excellent and will be well worth the time put into it. I can highly recommend this one, especially to people who've already read Mary Shelley's work, or to people who want an engaging and intelligent read.

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