My thanks to NetGalley and Head of Zeus for a review copy of this one.
This is a very strange little book. I put in a request for it because essentially of the themes that the description said it dealt with, of Mary Shelley, and Frankenstein; of the thought processes that go into imagination, into creation, into reading and writing. And it certainly is about that, but just not in a way I’d expected or imagined. Our author or at least an author (still not sure whether this is meant to be the author himself or a creation through which he is speaking) is up in the mountains, close to the location of the Villa Diodati, where Mary Shelley at age nineteen first came up with her most famous novel Frankenstein, pondering over the book, which he claims he hates for various reasons, its elitism and “racism” among them. But alongside he also engages with various other questions that trouble him, the isolated environment in which he is which is beginning to get to him, the writer’s block that he seems to be suffering, his own work, which has been writing horror stories, which come back to haunt him. We see and experience what the author does, in a sense like a stream of consciousness style. Occasionally we hear another voice, the voice of another person I mean (you will see who I mean when you read the book) but that too is as the author has seen and heard it.
This was a very different book from anything I’ve read before, and honestly even after finishing, this is a book hard to classify (it isn’t a story yet it is, it isn’t a literary essay, yet it is, and more such confusions) or even rate for me, in fact I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, even though I am trying to put down my thoughts. Both the Frankenstein and Mary Shelley theme, and that of authors and their creations (especially in the “horror” category) are explored alongside, the latter in some ways springing from the former and yet separate. The author claims to dislike the book, to hate it, offers some literary criticism, but then also takes us through what is admirable about it. The story (which I’m sure everyone knows) of how and where Frankenstein was created is mentioned, but while the blurb led me to expect that there would be a lot more focus on that aspect, this wasn’t really so. His criticisms of the book were points that hadn’t really occurred to me—so they were interesting to explore, and its message as our author identifies it was something that did stand out on my reading too so that I agreed with. Again the exploration of author and creation, how much of a creation is the author’s and how much it takes on a life of its own, and even touches the author, I found interesting to think about. The author/narrator’s own work coming back to haunt him in different ways was perhaps the fictional part of the story, but whether the atmosphere of the place, the isolation is a mere trigger to all of the rest that’s happening or represents something more is one point that I haven’t been able to figure out. The link between the Mary Shelley–Frankenstein issue, and the author–creation question made sense, as also did the question of why our author’s creations were perhaps haunting him (that there was more reason than one), but the ending was something I couldn’t entirely make sense of. I see some points that the book is trying to make (I think) but not I think entirely what it tries to say at the end—the ‘conclusion’ as it were.
The artwork between the sections was interesting—some of this made sense, the other parts didn’t (was it meant not to? Was it meant to represent the confusion?)—in the ARC version, part of it wasn’t very clear either.
But anyway, how do I rate it? I guess mid-way-3 stars. I can’t say I loved the book, not did I completely dislike it. It made me think of some things, some things made sense, and yet not all of it.