October 18, 2012
Using his formidable background as historian and biographer, Peter Akroyd retools Mary Shelley’s original as a realistic tale set mostly in London, with famous literary figures cast as a sort of repertory troupe for the novel’s characters. Percy Shelley is introduced as a fellow student to Victor Frankenstein, and Harriet Westbrook, Percy’s real-life abandoned wife, appears as Frankenstein’s fiancée, her drowning by suicide reimagined as murder by the Monster’s hand. Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori, among others — including scientific figures of the time — are featured, and we get to visit the Villa Diodati in Geneva.
The Monster in this novel is a young man galvanized back to life at Frankenstein’s Thames-side laboratory, with ghastly results. Burned and deformed by the elaborate electrical installation, driven mad, the now dangerous creature escapes Frankenstein’s influence, thereafter to dog the experimenter’s every step with death and desolation, like an avenging ghost.
Akroyd brings Frankenstein’s era and the small, everyday details of the period to vivid, three-dimensional life. The author had me eagerly scurrying to dictionaries and Google to look up the no-longer familiar terms used for tradesmen, conveyances, food and drink. This is a generous book, a very compelling read, with a nasty twist at the end. Whatever you do, don’t even glance at the last few pages lest you spoil the surprise of the denouement, made all the more fun when you consider the clues that were sprinkled throughout the book.
The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, published by Doubleday in America in 2008, is one of the very best of all alternate Frankenstein stories. A film version is reportedly in the works.