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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley [Book Thoughts]

200 years after it was written, Frankenstein remains deep, morally complex, exciting and hard to predict. What a book.
-Imran

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley



Ever since I read Jekyll & Hyde, I've been a fan of the old English Classics. It takes a bit of time to get used to the archaic language (countenance, pleasures etc. in common speech) but they can for quite enjoyable reads. That, and I enjoy seeing where the tropes originate from. That being said, the classics in general hold few surprises for modern audiences. Take Bram Stoker’s Dracula for instance; one hundred years down the line, a creature that stalks the night and drinks blood is neither new nor frightening. And I'm sure that Frankenstein’s monster and his depiction in popular culture should be at least somewhat familiar to most that read this; if not, then I'm sure that at least the name rings a bell.

But that’s also why Frankenstein took me by surprise. I went in expecting an entertaining but dated classic and it turned out to be one of the best books I've read in a very long time. That’s why also why I was quite surprised to find out that it was published in 1818, making it over 200 years old. But it’s a 200 year old book that’s more readable than many 100 year old books and the themes and dark atmosphere still seem so relevant today. I don’t say this lightly, but the book blew me away.

The book tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, an intelligent and kind-hearted young man living an idyllic life with his family in Switzerland. When he comes of age, Frankenstein’s interest in natural sciences leads him to enrol in the University of Ingolstadt where he becomes a brilliant student. It’s also around this time that his interests in chemistry and alchemy lead him down a shady path and he becomes obsessed with the idea of creating life. This eventually leads to the creation of Frankenstein’s monster, the giant zombie-like creature that’s often portrayed in the movies. The story chronicles how Frankenstein’s life changes after the creation of this creature as well as how the creature itself develops as sentient being of its own.

Seeing that it’s quite a dark story, you might be surprised to hear that it was written by a woman. A bloody intelligent woman, I might add. Woven into the story are dark themes, difficult questions and heavy consequences. Calling it a ‘horror’ story doesn't feel like I'm doing it justice. It’s not the blood/gore/gross-out approach taken by the modern genre, Frankenstein is loaded with an ominous foreboding atmosphere and heaps of dramatic tension. But beyond all of this, it’s just really entertaining. It’s one of the few books I’d call a page turner, something that just kept compelling me to read the next chapter and it kept on leaving me marvelled and impressed.

What a pleasant surprise the book turned out to be. I'm definitely going to read it again at some point in the future. For anyone interested, you can pick it up cheaply in the Collins Classic or Transatlantic Press range (Exclusive Books or Bargain Books here in Cape Town). Highly recommended, well worth the read.

200 years after it was written, Frankenstein remains deep, morally complex, exciting and hard to predict. What a book.

See you next week

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