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2 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Long Day's Journey into Horror, 31 Aug 2004
This review is from: Three Gothic Novels (Paperback)
If you like horror, you owe it to yourself to read this book from the beginnings of the genre. You will enjoy seeing the themes in Frankenstein repeated in other horror novels that you will read in the future. The book and the movie have essentially nothing in common, so assume that you do not know the story yet if you have only seen the movie.
If you do not like horror, you probably won't like the book very much at all.
The story opens in the frozen Arctic wastes during an sea-going expedition to find a passage through the ice to the East. Aboard the ship after a strange meeting, Frankenstein tells his story. As a young man he wanted to make a splash in the sciences, and invented a way to create life. Having done so, he became estranged from his new being with significant consequences for Frankenstein and his creation. The two interact closely throughout the book, like twin brothers in one sense and like Creator and creation in another sense.
This book presents significant challenges to the reader. Like many books that relate to scientific or quasi-scientific topics from long ago, Frankenstein seems highly outmoded to the modern reader. In the era of psychological knowledge, the development of moods and character in the book will also seem primitive to many. A further drawback is that this novel takes a long time to develop each of its points (even after the eventual action is totally foreshadowed in unmistakeable terms), so patience is required as layer after layer of atmosphere and thought are applied to create a complex, composite picture. Finally, the structure of the novel is unusual, with layers of narration applied to layers of narration, creating a feeling of looking at never-ending mirror images.
So, you may ask, why should someone read Frankenstein? My personal feeling is that there are two timelessly rewarding aspects to the book that well reward the reader (despite the drawbacks described above). Either is sufficient to please you. First, the book raises wonderful ethical issues about the responsibilities of science and the scientist towards the results of scientific endeavors. These issues are as up-to-date now as they were when the book was written. Those who developed atomic weapons and biotechnology tools appear to have given little more thought to what comes next than Frankenstein did toward his creation. Second, the moods that are built up in the reader by the book are extremely vivid and powerful. The artistry of this book can serve as a guide for novelists for centuries to come, in showing how much the reader can be deeply engaged by the circumstances of the characters.
Why, then, did I grade the book at three stars instead of five? Few will fail to be annoyed by the scientific awkwardness of the story, and that is a definite drawback. Also, only the most dedicated students of style will avoid feeling like the book moves and develops its story too slowly. Less is more in novels. In this case, more is less.
I cannot help but comment that this book is perhaps the finest example of appearances being deceiving that exists in literature. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a close competitor in this regard, but that fine work definite has to fall behind Frankenstein. In this book, beings of physical beauty act in inhumane, ugly ways. Beings of great ugliness act in beautiful ways. The same being may act in both ways, in different circumstances. Looks are deceiving, and our perceptions are flawed even when our attention is fixed. If the characters could have overcome this form of stalled thinking, the horror would have been averted. So the lesson is that the misperceptions we aim at others rebound (like a reflection in a mirror) right back onto us.
If you have not yet read Paradise Lost, Frankenstein is a good excuse to read that poem. The development of the story in Frankenstein assumes a knowledge of that story about Satan leading a rebellion against God and being dispossessed into Hell.
After you have had a chance to absorb and appreciate the nice issues this book raises, ask yourself where you in your life are acting without sufficiently considering the implications of your actions. Then, commence to examine those potential consequences. You should be able to create more good results in this way, and take more comfort in what you are doing. Both will be excellent rewards for your introspection.
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