This is another "rewrite" of Frankenstein that I found out about after hearing that it had been optioned to be made into a film. Like any and all things related to Shelley's classic, I rushed out and found a copy; I'm glad to say that I found it in hardback, making the cover art absolutely stunning and the page quality top-notch. The writing is, of course, beautiful and well done, but the story itself left me with quite a few questions. Not that the plot is unfinished, or has undone tangents; simply the whole idea of it made me curious as to how it came about.
Of course ,Victor Frankenstein is our main character, as always, and this book tells his story (as per usual) from his first person point of view. We are first introduced to him when he's in school at Oxford, studying the human body to divine its secrets, even when the professors frown on these kind of shenanigans. More that needs to be known? They scoff, believing that God has already told them all they would need to know about the human form. Victor is not dissuaded from his course, and instead actually finds another companion who proves to encourage Victor's strange tendencies. This person is none other than Percy Bysshe Shelley himself, the Romantic poet that Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (aka Mary Shelley) attached herself to.
Bysshe, as he insists Victor name him, is a volatile and manic fellow who throws his lot in with activists, always feeling that he is able to speak his mind in any group. Victor doesn't necessarily follow his lead, but becomes a member of Bysshe's entourage for the short time Bysshe is at Oxford. Victor's story follows the usual course - he becomes so enamored of the idea of creating life that he eventually researches galvanism and other forms of electrical inquiry, all toward the idea of reversing death. His experiments eventually work, but the creature (the only name for the thing) is so hideous and brutish that Victor relinquishes all ownership due to a creator.
The creature, of course, doesn't take kindly to being rejected so utterly, and thus a battle of wills is formed. It's simply not the battle of wills that one is used to - I certainly suspected something was amiss when the creature knew more than it should have, and the ending has a twist that I frankly did not see coming. This sort of story would certainly be wonderful to see in a thematic format, if it ever gets made; but my question was why did it seem necessary to introduce Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, Samuel Coleridge, John Polidori, and even eventually Mary Shelley herself into this narrative?
It's almost like that recent Dracula sequel, Dracula Undead, where Bram Stoker himself makes an appearance. It's nothing more than a gag to make readers interested; if anything, what it does, for me, is provide the theory that Mary did not necessarily come up with this story on her own, but that she based it on the life of someone she knew. Which I frankly find insulting, considering who Mary's parents were, the company she kept, and the times she lived in. I'm sure that Mr. Ackroyd did not intend to insult anyone, that he merely thought that this was a good twist on a well known story. And it is - the ending, for me, redeemed the rest of the book. It's definitely a good read, if simply to see the ending unfold. But I personally dislike this idea of introducing real literary people into fictions as though this adds something to them, when it clearly doesn't.