Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Xlibris Corporation edition

Oh, everybody knows about Frankenstein.  Everybody has seen the movie Frankenstein, and knockoffs of movies about Frankenstein.  But have they read the original?  I had not.  Have you?

This was the book club selection for October.  And I’m telling you right now that if your own book club needs a wake-up discussion book, this is a good one!  Our club loved it.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I plunged right in.   It’s not a long book, and the chapters are relatively short, so it’s easy to get into the book and move right along.

I will take this little place to mention that a very nice edition of Frankenstein is published by DK Illustrated Classics.  It has great notes on each page, exciting photographs to accompany the text and many supplemental features about the author, the times, etc.

OK, back to the book.  Hello– it’s not scary!  And you might be surprised to know that there are many interesting passages about travel.  Victor Frankenstein, the “hero”, after creating his monster, travels quite a bit.  (Actually the author, Mary Shelley did the traveling while she was writing the book.)  He goes to the Alps—-outstanding descriptions–and floats down the Rhine River, goes to London: Windsor and Oxford, and finally to the Orkney Islands in northern Scotland and the Arctic Ocean.  All very well narrated.

A reader might like to read the book for the armchair travel alone.

But to get back to the plot, after the monster has been created—and he remains nameless throughout–his name is NOT Frankenstein–the monster is on his own.  He wanders off and settles in a hut next to a cottage with a small family.  He lives there two years, watching the little family carefully to see how they live, begins to imitate how they speak.  He even learns to read.  He only goes out after dark.  He knows he is large and ugly and frightening to people.  He yearns for companionship.

I’m sorry to tell you that some murders occur.  Who do you think is responsible?  Yep.  Victor guesses at the murderer, but how can he tell anyone?  Victor is trapped and horrified by what he has done.

Of course I’m not going to tell you how the story ends.  But I will offer some commentary since you asked.

Mary Shelley was only nineteen years old when she wrote this book.  She must have been a woman ahead of her time to be interested in science and experiments.  This was the early 1800s.  And in fact, it was a time when people were indeed becoming interested in more education, more exploration, more experimentation.  She captures this trend nicely in her little “ghost” story that was written on a kind of dare among friends.

But for being written by a woman, it’s surprising that there are no strong women characters in the story.  It’s a book about men primarily.

And the haunting question a reader might ask himself/herself after finishing the book could be:  Who was the true monster in the novel?  Was it the monster or his creator, Victor Frankenstein?

Next month: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.  About the Civil War.

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