Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe
Published by Three Rivers Press (Random House)
When Mary Shelley first published Frankenstein in 1818, the story of the insane doctor and his grotesque creation was horrifying, too much so to have been written by an 18-year-old girl. And over time it has become the stick against which all other Gothic horror has been measured. But the ending of the book was left ambiguous and never told exactly what happened to Victor Frankenstein’s creation. Susan Heyboer O’Keefe, who previously wrote children’s books, answers the question in this compelling, often unsettling, and emotional follow-up to the original.
Told from the point of view of the creature, Frankenstein’s Monster picks up where the original left off, in the frozen sea with the ship’s captain, Robert Walton, making an insane vow to the dying Victor Frankenstein that he would kill the monster. So begins the game of chase that lasts for years as the self-aware and sensitive monster searches for his own humanity and Walton slowly loses his own.
O’Keefe takes masterful hold of the language and manages to work with Shelley’s original writing style and rhythms. Her research in, and respect for, the original book is something to be applauded, as she pulls out minor details that add a great deal to her novel. Instead of a traditional narrative, the story is told through a series of journal entries, written by the creature, as he tries to avoid Walton while, at the same time, comes to terms with what he is and is not.
The real strengths in Frankenstein’s Monster come from O’Keefe’s characterization of not only the monster but also his supporting cast. It is little wonder that the kindest people in the book are the poorest, beggars and peasants, and the true monsters are revealed in those who have wealth and position. From Walton’s slow descent into madness and his gradual physical transformation to Lily’s unwavering bitchiness and insanity, the characters are painted as intricate, albeit damaged, people off whom the monster can play. “Monster,” however, is a loosely defined word at best in this novel because he alone is a truly sympathetic character. Of all the “men” he meets, he is the one who is most human.
There are a few flaws in Frankenstein’s Monster, but none that diminish the book. First, while the language is beautiful and fits in very well with Shelley’s description of the self-educated creation, it can prove distracting in some places, dragging in others. To be fair, I have the same opinion of the original, though I love it. Also, and it’s a very small nit-picky point, I took exception to the creature’s name. Throughout the book, he refers to himself as Victor (for his father) Hartmann (which is another term for “beast”) because he claims he was never given a name. In the original, however, Victor Frankenstein referred to his creation as “my Adam,” thereby naming him after the Biblical first human male.
The bottom line is that if you own the original and always felt a bit unfulfilled by its ambiguous ending, Frankenstein’s Monster is a worthy successor. Poignant, moving, horrifying, and, at times, tender, it is an emotional journey that the reader will enjoy.
4 out of 5
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