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Customer Review

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nineteenth century galvanism *** 1/2 stars, 4 Dec. 2008
This review is from: The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein (Hardcover)
`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.'

The novel starts in typical gothic mode with where the protagonist was born and grew up - here it is the Alps where the young Victor `exulted in storms'. He is `blessed by the poetry of nature itself' and wanting to learn the `secrets of nature', and of electricity in particular, he persuades his father to let him come to `practical' England to study at Oxford. There he becomes great friends with Percy, known as Bysshe, Shelley and later stays with him and his second wife Mary at Lord Byron's holiday villa near Lake Geneva. We all know that this is where Mary Shelley wrote the original Frankenstein as the house party amused each other with ghost stories. It was an amazing feat of the imagination for a nineteen year old - she was fascinated by the emergence of the power of science and by questions of what was monstrous in wanting to understand and to create life. In this novel she has been demoted from creator to small speaking part - it's ironic that that here she is robbed of her best known creation since she is so associated with feminism through her mother Mary Wollstonecraft.

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein mixes fact, nineteenth century fiction and Ackroyd's twenty first century fiction with abandon. Harriet Shelley's life diverges most obviously - rather than being an educated daughter of a wealthy coffee shop owner here she is a East End girl working on a precursor to a factory production line. Harriet is murdered before Shelley meets wife number two in this alternate universe whereas in reality Shelley and Mary eloped whilst he and Harriet were separated. She committed suicide in real life, pregnant and abandoned both by Shelley and her new lover. Generally in this genre the new point of view shines a light on the original and on our assumptions - for example Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea on Jane Eyre. I can't help thinking that in this novel Ackroyd's characters have considerably less complexity than in real life and that Mary Shelley's original had more feeling for the monstrous.

Ackroyd is always great on London and creates the London of this time well with descriptions of Soho and Limehouse and the river, and of the resurrectionists bringing corpses to the hospital and for more money to Frankenstein. He is more convincing with these descriptions than with the romantic poets.

It's a good read but not Ackroyd at his best and for me the end was disappointing and formulaic.
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