Saturday, October 30, 2010

RIP Read #24: The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd is one that I added to my buy list the moment I heard the title.  I wasn't even sure what it was about but I was sure I wanted to read it.  Mary Shelley's original Frankenstein is one of my favorite novels of all time and I wanted to see what this novel did with the story.  Ackroyd, also a historian, did a commendable job of recreating the language and feel of the original Victorian novel.  My only small quibble is with the pacing of the book.

This is a retelling of the Frankenstein story with the amateur medical student and scientist being a contemporary and friend of Shelley, Byron and eventually Mary Shelley herself.  I don't want to give too much away because I really think that it helped me to not know much about it going in.  In fact, looking at the back of the cover (of the UK edition), I was shocked to find the major twist--literally from the last page or two--mentioned in the blurb from The Independent.  I HATE that.  So, if you have the cover shown here, don't read the back. (Unless you're Jenny ... then read away!)

I found that this telling of the story focused more on the questions of science and religion that are brought about after the creation of the "monster" and less of the misery and pain of that creature.  It was fascinating if a bit slow at times.  I really liked the Shelley character who appeared mostly true to historical fact (except for obvious necessity for the plot to work).  And I literally came within pages of the end and had no idea what was going to happen.  This can be good and bad, depending on your point of view.  Now I want to go back and read the original again and then re-read this one.  Next year, I'm thinking of a classic horror focus for my RIP reads so I'll keep that idea in mind!

Avoiding the intersection of curiosity and hubris,

Support our site and buy The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein on Amazon or find it at your local library.  We bought our own copy.


  1. Wow, you've done really well with your reads! I only finished one of my books but I have read short stories every weekend. I've heard of Peter Ackroyd through his nonfiction, this one sounds interesting as well! And I Hate it when spoilers are given away so freely like that. Why do publishers do it--as I read all the stuff on the back and front before starting a book.

  2. I really enjoyed this book. I still prefer the original, but the main reason I read the original was because I knew I was going to read this one as my choice for book club, so I wanted to compare them, and I'm so glad I did. It helps if you're familiar with Shelley's life story before you read this, but I thought Ackroyd had done a wonderful job combining the Frankenstein story with Shelley's story.

    I must admit I guessed what the twist would be, mainly because I had that same thought at one stage whilst reading the original.

  3. Danielle - I had his Thames here for a while but didn't get to it before it had to go back to the library. I think I will try again on that one this winter. Obviously he's a high-quality historian so I'm more excited now!

    Tracy - I prefer the original too -- the grief of the monster is so beautiful. I didn't know much about Shelley but checked up on him during this book. Interesting that you had that thought in the first book -- I can't say I ever did but I tend to read without too much thought (if that doesn't sound too awful!).

  4. The monster really is an incredible creation, extremely intelligent and articulate and very human, which makes him all the more chilling when he decides 'you made me into a monster, so I'm going to act like one!'
    The thought really hit me at the end, when the ship's captain saw the monster, because he was the first independent witness as to the monster's reality.

  5. Tracy - Yes, the fact that he purposefully chooses to commit monstrous acts is what makes it such a compelling read. And I find your take on it quite fascinating and want to re-read it next time from that point of view!