Frankenstein- Mary Shelley [Review]

“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, collected the instruments of life around me that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.” (Frankenstein, Mary Shelley)

 

13096261992What a masterpiece! I have been meaning to read Frankenstein for so long and finally I did it. I should have done it ages ago. Now my gothic literature trilogy is done; Dracula, Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (review to come).

Frankenstein tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, the son of a prominent Swiss family who seems to have everything: wealth, youth, family and friends. The novel begins in the bleak North Pole, on a boat trapped in ice with Captain Robert Walton’s crew. Captain Walton finds Victor Frankenstein who is near death and chasing after a monster. While recovering Frankenstein narrates his story to Captain Walton.

Victor Frankenstein starts by telling the reader about his family and origins. He always had a burning desire for knowledge which takes him to Ingolstadt University in Germany and studies science. There his passion leads him to perform a deed as terrible as it is marvellous. He finds the secret of life itself and builds a man, a monster of a man and gives him life.  Soon Frankenstein realises what he has done and he is disgusted by his creation. He thinks of it as an abomination, rejects him, runs and hides from it.

The monster is never given a name. He is referred to as the monster throughout the novel and Frankenstein calls him everything from demon to ogre to wretch. Shelley’s depiction of the creature is marvellous. She could have made him look like a zombie-like monster or a terrifying creature, ’alien-looking’, but she presented him with a brilliant mind and a heart, a complicated heart but still a heart. All the monster wants is love, acceptance and to be understood. He exclaims to his creator ”I am not a monster. I have feelings just like you”.  The agony he feels comes across so real that you cannot help but feel sorry for the monster and hate Frankenstein for what he has done. I am going to admit that I for one feel sorry and pity for the monster and I can see where he is coming from. I do not like Victor Frankenstein one bit. He is arrogant, self-righteous and selfish. The monster is more sympathetic than his creator. All he wants is acceptance and love.

The fact that the monster is more likeable or more sympathetic than Frankenstein is one of the reasons that make this novel so great. It is not a horror story; it is a tragedy, a sad story. It explores the emotions that one who is rejected goes through and the actions that result from that rejection. The novel appears simple; scientist creates monster, monster goes on rapid murderous spree, scientist tries to stop it. However, by the end of the book the reader realises it is not that simple and is left wondering who was really evil. It is a serious story that shows the implications of science, of the consequences of someone playing god.41wmhy-xrxl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

The book is written as a series of narratives in the first person. One of the narratives is the monster’s perspective. In the middle of the book, the monster takes over detailing his first steps into the world and the terror he stirs in people.  It is daring of Mary Shelley to do this, but by doing this she is giving the monster a human side. The monster having been rejected by his creator and by the world flees. He is ‘born’ into a frightening and hostile world that immediately banishes him from everyone. Even his creator, who he sees as a father, rejects him and is scared of him. The monster, alone, flees and lives in a forest nearby a cottage. There he observes the family (that live there) and through them learns the way of man; reading, writing, speaking amongst other skills. One day he feels brave enough to present himself to the family hoping for acceptance. He does not get it and from that the real monster emerges. First, he is sad, then, he is enraged. The real monster is created by the hatred and frivolity of other humans. Banished and angry with humanity, the monster seeks revenge. He who has not done anything is called a monster and is feared because he is different. The monster falls victim to humanity’s prejudice and cruelty. His innocence has been corrupted by man and becomes the monster everyone thinks him to be.

It can be said that the story would have been different if people were less judgmental, a little less scared and more understanding. But then we would not have Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. How was Frankenstein created? Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was 18 years old. One evening, she along with Lord Byron, her husband and poet Percy Shelley and John Polidori, while staying in a cottage near Geneva, decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror story.  Mary Shelley wanting to prove her worth to Lord Byron spent nights thinking of a story. Eventually she came up with Frankenstein, creating a masterpiece and introducing to the literary world the most important monster that will haunt us until today. Definitely give it a read. It will be worth it. Trust me.

 

”I am not a monster. I have feelings just like you” (Frankenstein, Mary Shelley)

Dracula- Bram Stoker [Review]

Was he beast, man, or Vampire?

I decided to finally pick up my copy of Dracula as I was in a gothic mood. What a read! A book of letters and journal entries, you get to read and experience every character’s thoughts, views, emotions and perspective … apart from maybe Dracula himself.

Dracula begins with Jonathan Harker travelling through Transylvania to Dracula’s castle. On his way there, Harker is warned by many locals that Dracula is not someone you want to visit after dark. The entire first part of the book is ”an exercise in dread” as Jonathan Harker slowly finds out that his host is something inhuman and utterly evil. The book is filled with scenes of horror that could freak you out. For me, there is a particular scene in the first part of the book where Harker sees three women who have been recently turned into vampires and are in search for blood to satisfy their thirst. It definitely sent chills 20150830_150407throughout my body.

The whole book as already mentioned is held via diaries. Through Jonathan Harker’s diary entries we look into his psyche and paranoia as he starts to connect the dots regarding the horrors of the night and the Count. The reader becomes part of the story, he or she is experiencing the fear and paranoia that Harker is experiencing. The build up to the meeting with Dracula and throughout the book to be honest is quite scary and tense. You cannot help but continue reading.

Other than Harker making his way to Dracula’s castle, not much happens in the first section of the story. However, the reader is introduced to Count Dracula and you get the feeling that things are about to get better and more interesting. In the second section of Dracula you’re introduced to Harker’s fiancé Mina Murray and her friend Lucy Westerna, our two female heroes.  While reading the correspondence between Lucy and Mina as well as their diary entries you cannot help but think of Jonathan Harker and what has happened to him, as his fate is left on a stand still at the end of the first section and does not appear in the second. Soon the characters of Dr Seward, Quincy Morris and Arthur Holmwood, the three of which are suitors to Lucy are introduced.  For me, Dr Seward’s entry was perhaps the most interesting as we read about a certain mental patient of his, Renfield. Renfield is an irksome zoophagous mentally unstable. At first you don’t know what relevance he has in the story, but he keeps you on your toes. You find yourself turning page after page and all of a sudden everything clicks. He does have a part in the story. He does have a purpose.

Another character comes into the story, that of Dr. Van Helsing. A Dutch professor, an expert in pretty much everything but most importantly for this story, in vampirism. What a character. He did make me laugh. He is the one who knows all about medicine, superstitions, and religions. He comes to our rescue regarding our ‘beloved’ Count Dracula. All the characters are well portrayed, each with their own unique personality, characteristics and role to the story as they attempt to destroy the inherent evil, Count Dracula.

For someone who did not know the story before and not watching any of the films (I know- I have already been told off for not seeing the classic film of Dracula) I could not stop turning the page. I wanted to know who this Dracula was. I did not know who survives and who doesn’t. Will anyone be turned into a vampire or not? Will they manage to destroy Dracula once and for all? Before Dracula, the only other good vampire book that I had read and really enjoyed was Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice. Now I have two added to my library. Many comment that old classic books such as Dracula are not as captivating or gripping as modern books. I disagree. The horrors of the night and the various warnings of ‘things’ that come in the night are described in such a way that grabs you and makes you worry about the safety of the characters. The language is captivating, the atmosphere gothic and the story itself is heartbreaking, full of emotion. Also the fact that the story is portrayed through diary entries makes it easier to read, I find.

I read somewhere that Dracula ”touches on many themes, savagery, love, religion, technology and xenophobia”, it leaves you thinking. Dracula is a genuine horror story and I would recommend it to anyone.

The Turn of the Screw – Henry James [Review]

One evening my friend Mary and I were discussing books over a cup of coffee, as we usually do. This time we were talking about gothic novels due to the fact that we had just watched BBC’s The Art of Gothic  Britain’s Midnight Hour. The Brontes came up as they usually do in our discussions, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and many more. Mary told me that she has not read Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, I told her that she should when she got the time as Northanger Abbey is not a typical Jane Austen book. It is different from her others and you can tell from the theme of the book and the various circumstances that appear. However, Northanger Abbey will have to wait for another post as I could go on forever. Whilst I recommended Northanger Abbey to Mary, she recommended Turn of a Screw by Henry James to me. She had loved the book when she first read it and told me that it will disturb me and leave a chill. I was intrigued and borrowed her copy of Turn of the Screw and started reading.

turn of the screw2One thing I can tell about this novel. She was right, I was greatly disturbed by the children in this book. Especially Miles as he acts and talks like an adult which creped me out immensely. The story begins with an unknown narrator, who listens to Douglas, a friend, read a manuscript written by a former governess whom Douglas claims to have known. The manuscript tells the story of a young governess hired by a man  who has become responsible for his nephew and niece after their parents had died. He lives in London while the children and governess live in the countryside. He wants to have nothing to do with the care of the children.  The children, Miles and Flora, are not the typical sweet children you would expect. They are described as beautiful, angelic and majestic… how can one not love them!  Are they as innocent as they seem? Soon, the young governess starts seeing two ghosts and it seems to be the ghosts of Miss Jessel (the previous governess who died under a mysterious circumstance) and that of Peter Quint, a previous employee. Do the children see the ghosts or not? Or is it the imagination of the young governess? She sees them peering in threateningly through the window, standing silently and starting at the children from the top of the tower.

This story is absolutely chilling and very clever. It’s a story within a story, told as a ghost story. It is dark and melodramatic, telling the story of good and evil with hints of sexual relations, reflecting the Victorian society at the time. Throughout the book you wonder whether the children know about the ghosts and whether they see them.  You wonder whether the governess has gone mad as you only read her side of the story. We don’t get to see what the other characters think about these spirits. However, when the governess describes the figures to the housekeeper, Mrs Grose, the later does not seem to think that she has lost her marbles (as one can put it!) and recognises the spirits as Peter Quint (the late valet) and Miss Jessel ( the late governess). You are still left wondering even if you come to the conclusion that the young governess in not the only one who can see these wandering spirits.

Henry James somehow keeps the tension mounting. His story grows ever grimmer, ever scarier.  You are kept on the edge of your seat (or bed in this instance)  trying to solve the puzzle, solve the mystery. Who is Peter Quint and Miss Jessel? What do they want with the children? What was their relationship?  Is the governess mad or not? It’s the darkest and richest story I have ever read — thus far. I am left wondering whether Miles and Flora did know about the presence of the ghosts and how innocent or guilty they really are in the end. It is left open for the reader to interpret however he or she wants.

I will say this; Turn of the Screw is a very good story, I loved every minute of it, even though I was a bit disturbed in certain passages and was on edge throughout the story. It is a story that stays with the reader, even after the final and shocking last page.  Thank you Mary for recommending this great book to me. 🙂

—- K.J.Koukas