The Happy Reader Book of the Season (Winter 2018): Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

I finally got round to reading this classic

Issue Twelve of The Happy Reader lies open on top of light grey patterned bedsheets. On top of the left hand page sits my copy of Frankenstein. The right hand page shows four generic 'Facebook profile pictures', each one gradually becoming covered with a black liquid substance.
My copy of Frankenstein with pages from The Happy Reader

Before I dive into my review, I want to introduce you to a new thing that I’ll be doing: book clubs. Each issue, The Happy Reader has a ‘Book of the Season’. Each book is announced at the end of the preceding issue of the one that the book will feature, so readers have time to read and think about the book.

I’ve been reading THR for a little while now, but I’ve not been a great at keeping up with the seasonal reads. But when I found out that Frankenstein by Mary Shelley would be their featured book, I thought, ‘If I don’t read it now, I’ll regret it’. Frankenstein is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for an age, and one that my friends had been encouraging me to read. So, thanks to them, and thanks to The Happy Reader for giving me that little nudge in the right direction. Now, enough preamble, let’s explore this Winter read…

“You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”

Opening line, Frankenstein, Mary Shelly
  • Published September 1st 2014 by Alma Classics (first published January 1st 1818)
  • Author: Mary Shelley
  • Format: Paperback
  • Genre(s): Classics, Science Fiction, Horror
  • Pages: 184
  • Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My Review

If there’s one thing I love, it’s Russian Doll narratives. Frankenstein begins as a series of letters to a Mrs Saville, from her brother R. Walton, as he updates her on his journey. From here, his voyage becomes intertwined with the unfortunate circumstances of a stranger whom he invites onboard, thus saving him from the frozen surroundings they are both travelling in. Captain Walton seeks friendship, and warms to the stranger with such a pure, kind heart. Once the stranger is able to, he tells his story, and that’s when we find ourselves in the next layer of the narrative. The stranger is Victor, and he explains his passion for science and creation, and how this has led him to be where he is when we meet him.

It took me so long to get around to reading this book, that I has pre-formed ideas about what the narrative would be like. I knew there would be Victor Frankenstein, and the monster he created. What I didn’t anticipate was the way the story would be told, and what that story would actually be. If you’ve never read the book, then I’d suggest leaving now and picking it up. The thing about classics is that they are magical when come to with very little prior knowledge about the plot. A huge part of why I loved reading this book so much is because it contained many elements, scenes, themes etc. that I just didn’t expect to find.

“Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed?”

The Monster, Chapter 16, p. 111.

I’ll tell you what I thought the plot was going to be: Victor creates a monster. The monster wakes up to find Victor, his creator. The monster is overwhelmed by being alive, being in existence, and doesn’t have the mental capacity to deal with this. Victor, similarly, is unable to cope with having created a new life form, and this leads to the downfall and corruption of the monster.

In fact, the plot was a lot more complex and meaningful than that. After I’d read it, I met up with my friend Kathy (after acquiring copies of The Happy Reader for us both) and we had our own little book club discussion about it. Frankenstein is one of her favourite books, and one of the things she asked me was what my favourite scene was. I umm’ed and ahh’ed over this, went back and forth in my head, but then went with my heart, choosing the scenes where the monster tells his story. In the edition I read, this was chapters 11 through to 16. I had no idea that these scenes would exist, and move me as much as they did. It had occurred to me that at some point the monster became educated and articulate enough to be able to tell the story in the first place, and hearing his story was simultaneously satisfying, intriguing and heartbreaking. It was this element of the novel that made me love the monster.

And that’s only one aspect of it. There’s a whole spiral of turmoil and disaster for Victor, which made me feel for him too, but in a different way. I didn’t expect his character to be so flawed, for him to make decisions that created more turmoil. I didn’t expect him to reject his own creation as instantly as he did, yet trying to comprehend what that would actually be like (coming face to face with a monster you’ve fashioned from human parts), I can’t say how I would react.

“The whole series of my life appeared to me as a dream; I sometimes doubted if indeed it were all true, for it never presented itself to my mind with the force of reality.”

Frankenstein, chapter 12, p. 146.

There are so many brilliant points to this narrative worthy of discussion, but it’s made me view the idea of the monster in a whole new way, and what he stands for. Captain Walton’s need for friendship for example: he accepts Victor without judgement, and opens his arms to helping him. He listens to his story, and even after hearing of the horrors which Victor relates to him, he still feels compassion.

“I wish to soothe him; yet can I counsel one so infinitely miserable, so destitute of every hope of consolation for his miseries, to live?”

Walton, Chapter 24, p. 173.

I could discuss this book all day, and probably will one day when in Kathy’s company. But for now I’ll say, read it, revisit it, read the scenes featuring the monster’s story and keep his messages with you. Seek friendship, and remember that outside appearance isn’t a reflection of a person’s inside. This is one of the best books I’ve read about the nature of humanity and what it means to be a living breathing being in the world.

Frankenstein

P.S. If you want to find more from my bookish friend Kathy who I mentioned above, follow her blog: The Annotated Life

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