Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Various Frankensteins

WHSmith in the Birmingham airport stocks Peter Ackroyd's The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein in its SFF section. Now that I've read it, I'm not entirely convinced that the book belongs there, but I'll take it. It's not often that a Serious Respectable author is shelved there.

I've probably said this here before, but I love Frankenstein. It is the perfect book for that moment where you're just discovering how much you can do with literature (which is not the same thing as loving books, though both are great). It is not only easy to read through pretty much every existing theoretical framework, but it's saturated with other texts as well. You could discuss Frankenstein with a group of reasonably intelligent teenagers for hours and you'd never run out of things to talk about. I'm never sure whether it is a *good* book (partly because I'm never sure what I mean by that in the first place) but it provides practically endless fodder for thinking and talking.

I also love Peter Ackroyd. And I suspect the reasons I enjoyed The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein have a lot to do with the reasons I like Ackroyd in the first place - this is geek porn. Victor Frankenstein hangs out with Percy Bysshe Shelley (portrayed more tolerably than I have ever thought of him) and Mary, as well as Keats, Byron and Polidori.; he sees a stage performance of Melmoth the Wanderer and discusses the hydrologic cycle with William Godwin. At times like this, the book is really fun, even if this is mostly because it's trying to be clever. And it's quite as immersed in the literature, and the literary figures of the time, as the original text.

But once you've gotten past the clever bits and the (expected) wonderful picture of historical London it all becomes a bit unsatisfactory. Frankenstein has, as I've said, been read in a huge number of different ways. Ackroyd's taking one particular angle and running with it, which perhaps inevitably shuts down a number of the possibilities the original text leaves open. I found myself thinking "but what about...?" a number of times as I read this book.

This probably wouldn't matter if the historical geekery bits were strong enough to stand up by themselves. But they aren't all they could be. I enjoyed the presence of the familiar historical characters and ideas, but there was nothing that struck me as particularly clever or brilliant, and this isn't even my period in history*.

I would apply none of these criticisms to John Kessel's Pride and Prometheus, which is another Frankenstein-themed work that I've read relatively recently. Pride and Prometheus is a pastiche of major characters and themes from Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein, and it's available (for free!) here. Either because it's well done or because I'm thrilled to see Mary Bennet in a major role, I think this is excellent. Other people have talked about this (see here) and so (though I may return to it after I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) I will say nothing more. Read it, though.

*Which I suppose could also mean that there were clever bits that I missed out on because I don't know enough. Anyone?

1 comment:

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