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