Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus, Book Review

By Mary Shelley

Pros: a must read for the genre, fascinating idea

Cons: long introductory frame story, dry prose by modern day standards

I read this on my trip to Japan. Not a good choice. I picked it because I have 2 copies and figured I'd leave one there. Then we got the kobo and i-pad...

Anyway, I thought I'd read it before and therefore had strange ideas of what should happen. I'm not sure what book I was thinking of but it definitely wasn't Frankenstein. Needless to say, it was different than what I was expecting, and I knew it didn't follow any of the films.

The book is narrated via a frame story detailing Robert Walton's quest to explore the North Pole in letters to his sister. While his ship is trapped in ice and he wonders at the wisdom of his tenacity towards pursuing his goal at all costs, the crew spot a pair of dogsleds, several hours apart. The second one is driven by Victor Frankenstein, who has been pursuing his own goals (as it were).

In an effort to prevent Walton from repeating his mistakes, Frankenstein tells the story of how he, as a driven man, discovered how to give life to inanimate objects. He decides, for his first test, to make a man. Later, horrified by the beautiful form he gave this giant of his creation, Frankenstein casts his creature out. Little does he know his trials are just beginning.

There's a definite moral being taught about the dangers of reaching beyond one's understanding and playing God. It's not subtle, but it's also not invasive to the story. As with other gothic stories, you can ignore the moral if you'd like and enjoy the action in its own right.

Modern readers will find the opening dry and wonder when Frankenstein will enter (several letters into the narrative). Once he starts telling his story it digresses at times to detail the creatures actions and mention minutae that alternate between being interesting and boring.

It wouldn't be my highest recommendation for a good read, but given the influence Frankenstein has had on modern literature, it is worth reading if you want to consider yourself well read in the field.

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