Customer Review

16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A mean-spirited character assassination of Mary Shelley, 11 May 2013
This review is from: A Treacherous Likeness (Charles Maddox 3) (Hardcover)
This book is written in lovely prose - but I hate its depiction of Mary Shelley which is vicious, malicious and would be positively libellous if written about someone alive today. Shepherd has read the standard biographies, the letters, the journals - and then has chosen to ignore them in creating a monstrous Mary Shelley.

Unlike Shepherd's last two books, this doesn't make an intervention into a classic novel, instead it takes on the Shelley `circle' - Shelley, Byron, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont - and, particularly, the motifs of death that followed them: the suicides of Shelley's first wife, and Mary Shelley's half-sister Fanny Imlay; the succession of dead babies; the early death of Shelley himself before the age of 30, and turns them into a personal indictment of Mary Shelley.

Shepherd tries to justify her treatment in an afterword but I'm afraid I disagree both with her thesis (for which there is no evidence) and the way in which she puts it forward in this book. Her argument about the authorship question of Frankenstein can be fairly easily discounted as the 1818 manuscript for the novel exists in the Bodleian in Mary Shelley's handwriting, and Shepherd's assertion that it was dictated by Shelley is spurious in the extreme. More pressing, however, is the unpleasant emotional manipulations this book makes in its depiction of Mary Shelley, and its radical re-writing of the relationship between Claire Clairmont and Shelley.

I can't expand without significant spoilers but readers may want to compare this novel with some of the scholarly literature on the Shelley `circle': Richard Holmes' seminal Shelley: The Pursuit, and Janet Todd's Shelley and the Maiden are particularly relevant to some of the issues central to this book, though offering very different and far more subtle and nuanced interpretations without whitewashing or eliding the undoubtedly disturbing elements of the story. There are also many volumes of letters and journals from all these participants which are available in university and research libraries, and which serve as the basis for the biographies noted above.

It may be argued that this as `just fiction' - but I'm afraid I found this a jaundiced, hostile and deeply unpleasant recreation of a woman whose own writings reveal someone very different. Read this by all means, but do bear in mind that it's one person's rendition, in fictional form, of a group of real people who, sadly, can't defend themselves against the profoundly disturbing accusations made against them here.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Sep 2013 07:56:43 BDT
Goth lady says:
Thank you for this review! I must admit I only read half of this book before giving up on it; I didn't hurl it at the wall, because it was on my Kindle, but I did rush to my bookshelves to find my copy of Richard Holmes's biography of Shelley, and I think I shall also seek out Miranda Seymour's book on Mary Shelley. I do think that Lynn Shepherd is entitled to her thesis, (although if there's no evidence that does make it dodgy!), but I would have preferred it if she'd stuck to writing a thesis, and not tried to wrap it up in a work of fiction. I'm afraid I find her fictional method rather parasitic. It's such a shame; she's a talented writer but seems to need to use other people's work as a kind of prop.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Sep 2013 19:18:46 BDT
Last edited by the author on 22 Sep 2013 19:19:31 BDT
Roman Clodia says:
Thanks for the comment.

This book made me very angry because it goes beyond mere speculation or 'alternative interpretation' and many people will believe it as a kind of truth.

Shepherd couldn't have written it as a thesis, at least not a respectable academic one, as there is no evidence for her more outrageous suggestions, and plenty of counter-evidence for Claire Clairmont's relationshipwith Shelley (and Byron, of course).

I'm all for speculative fiction but this just seems unnecessarily vicious to me.

I agree with your comments about Shepherd, and would also be interested in something less dependent on previous writings.

Seymour's biography is worth reading, but I think I prefer Janet Todd's book for its scholarly reliability.
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