30 Novels, day 13: Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
This novel was a complete surprise to me when I first read it, probably around age 11 or 12. The monster in the book was not the grunting moron that he had been turned into by movies and TV. In the book he learns how to speak, and then to read. He tells his own story. He even reads novels and poetry, and gives his thoughts and opinions on them.
Eventually he turns to thoughts of hatred and revenge, and sets out to find and destroy his creator, but I could feel for this monster. I could care about his fate. He was a thinking, feeling being.
The novel was also a surprise to me because the story is so preposterous. The book has great thrills and chills (and a wonderful scene set on a glacier), but the characters do such ridiculous, idiotic things. Case in point: the monster threatens Victor Frankenstein with the words, “I will be with you on your wedding night.” Rather than break off his engagement for the sake of his bride-to-be, Victor instead decides to hasten the day of his marriage to Elizabeth.
Then, on their wedding night, Victor leaves his young bride alone in their hotel room in order to search the corridors and grounds for his enemy, thus breaking the one cardinal rule that characters in horror stories have been breaking ever since: always stay together.
The novel is contrived, clumsy, even boring at times. It’s an annoying, frustrating read. The story of Mary Shelley’s own life, come to think of it, would make a better novel (she was nineteen when she wrote this book!).
But the novel stuck with me, despite its flaws, as it has stuck with countless other readers through the years. Like Kafka’s The Castle, it has a quality of inevitability: someone had to write this book. This story had to be.