Friday, November 13, 2009

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein

Ackroyd, Peter. 2008. The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein. Doubleday. 353 pages.

I was born in the alpine region of Switzerland, my father owning much territory between Geneva and the village of Chamonix where my family resided.

This book is a reimagining of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Our narrator is Victor Frankenstein. It weaves small doses of fact into the fiction by having Victor become friends with Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and John William Polidori. Sounds interesting, right? Like it might have some potential.

This might be a good time to talk about expectations. I had high hopes for this one. I *really* wanted to like it. I wanted to connect with this one right from the start. I wanted it to be really smart and clever and fun. I wanted it to be engaging. Perhaps if I'd had lower expectations, I wouldn't have been so let down.

I can't say if it's fortunate or unfortunate, but the jacket flap is really something else. Containing phrases like: "tour de force" "world's most accomplished" "incomparable" "brilliantly reimagines" "penned in period-perfect voice" and "sure to become a classic of the twenty-first century." (I've long thought that the phrase "sure to become a classic" should be banned from all jacket flaps and blurbs.)

Did I like this one? Not really. Why didn't I like this one? Well, it disrespected Mary Shelley's original. I could live with it playing around with the original novel. (Elizabeth being his sister and not his love interest. There being different murder victims than in the original book.) I could even come to like the directions and twists this one took. The character development of this Victor Frankenstein. The big twist did make me think. It is still making me think. (I'm still trying to puzzle out if it really truly works as a whole. Knowing the ending, does all that come before still work. Or does it all fall apart?) So the fact that this one wasn't faithful to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein didn't bother me all that much. But it disrespected history itself. By having Victor Frankenstein interact with real people--with Percy and Mary Shelley, with Lord Byron, with others of the time period you add in a whole other level.

Yes, this book is fiction. It never claims otherwise. But what few facts find their way into the book get so compressed and distorted and out of order that it was just weird. At least weird to me. It is fiction. The author can do anything he wants. It's his choice, his right. Will this bother most readers? I don't know. Probably not. And I suppose that's the good news.

Plus, this one got disgusting. Unlike the original which tended to leave things to your imagination, this one got too detailed and disturbing. (I could choose a scene or two to describe, but I don't really want to go there. I'm not comfortable going there.)

Is it readable? Is it compelling? I read it in two days. Half the time I was hating it, but I still kept reading. This isn't a book I wanted to give up on in the middle, you know, just in case it got good and redeemed itself by an oh-so-amazing ending. How easy is it to read? Well, I'd say it was about as challenging as the original novel. Ackroyd did fairly good at imitating Victor Frankenstein's complex style. Is this one for you? Maybe. Maybe not.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Lezlie said...

I finished this recently, and I have to say it was the end that finally won my approval. I really liked that twist. And like you, I'm still pondering whether or not my perception of the rest of the story would change now in light of the ending. I, too, wondered if it would all hang together upon a reread. I didn't reread, but I want to! It's not a *great* book, but if the reader hangs on to the end, it makes one think.


Amanda said...

Oh no. I wanted to read this one because, well I really like Mary Shelly's book. But oh no he did not change it all up like that! And interacting with Byron, etc? Man I am NOT reading this one. I should have known too because Ackroyd's book The Fall of Troy just didn't sit well with me either. Sigh...

She said...

:( Sorry you were let down! Those are almost the worst books-- the ones in which you have so much hope for awesomeness and yet there is no ground for you to stand upon that assumption.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about those book jacket cliches. Can't they think of new ones?

Kailana said...

Sorry this book didn't work for you! I think I will pass, too!

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I was excited to hear what you thought of this book since you mentioned int on my blog awhile ago. It's too bad it didn't meet your expectations. I'll probably still try it if I come across it, but it's not one I'll be running out to get.

And I just ignore most book jacket comments -- they're all generic anyway!

cleemckenzie said...

Have to give you credit. I usually don't finish a book when it turns on me. Thanks for the review.

Jeane said...

Interestingly, I read another re-writing of this, The Frankenstein Diaries by Venables. It also took liberties with the story, but they didn't bother me over much. I don't think I could deal with something more gruesome as this one sounds, though.