Prolific literary polymath Ackroyd (Poe, 2009, etc.) rearranges the original gothic horror story of ambition gone awry into a blend of autobiography and history.
Mary Shelley is herself a character in this recasting of her novel; she’s one of several real-life figures whose paths cross that of the ambitious, privileged Swiss seeker attracted to all that is new and radical. Victor Frankenstein finds an ally in fellow Oxford student Percy Bysshe Shelley, a passionate atheist who shares his ideas of a new, fairer society of men uncoupled from divine creation. Consumed with curiosity about “the spirit of life,” Frankenstein experiments on the dead using electricity to reinvigorate them, seeking to create a human unencumbered by class, society or faith. Obtaining his bodies from grave robbers, he eventually succeeds in reanimating a very fresh young corpse, endowing it with enormous strength in the process, but also horribly changing its appearance. The monster learns it is an object of disgust to other humans and begs its creator for a companion, but Frankenstein, now horror-stricken by his achievement, refuses. Having already killed Shelley’s first wife, the monster promises misery to its maker as part of their indissoluble bond. Bizarrely, Victor joins Byron, Shelley, Mary and Dr. Polidori for the Villa Diodati sojourn at which his own story is born, but in this version the conclusion lies back in London, different and dubious.
A questionable mishmash of cultural, scientific, literary, psychological and political material gives birth to an atmospheric but unnatural doppelgänger to Shelley’s classic.