three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
44-Jan-Feb-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-The Casebok of Victor FrankensteinBritish writer Peter Ackroyd is an acclaimed biographer, novelist, and poet. He is particularly noted for his works on Charles Dickens, Thomas More, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and Edgar Allan Poe. Recently reviewed: The Lambs of London ( 4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2006), The Fall of Troy ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2008), Thames: The Biography ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2009).

The Story: It is a story that has been drummed into the minds of English literature students for almost two centuries. In 1816, during a particularly miserable summer on Lake Geneva, a legendary group--Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and Byron's physician Dr. Polidori--while away the hours sharing invented tales of the supernatural. The future Mary Shelley tells a lurid story that will evolve into the horror classic Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. In this retelling of that fateful summer, Ackroyd includes one extra house guest in Lord Byron's villa--an earnest young scientist named Victor Frankenstein.
Nan A. Talese. 353 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780385530842

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]his fast-paced, most readable novel is charged with electricity and enchanting mischief. ... Of course, Ackroyd, in giving Mary Shelley yet another inspiration for her story, does not neglect the medieval tale that, in fact, gave literary shape to her nightmares." Thane Rosenbaum

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Reanimating a literary classic is a daring venture, but Peter Ackroyd possesses all the requisite skills to succeed at the task. ... Ackroyd's retelling of the Frankenstein story is exquisitely rendered, consistently gripping, and appropriately chilling." Mark Dunkelman

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Ackroyd does the Frankenstein mythology a tremendous service by restoring its intellectual weight, its emotional gravitas, its air of tragic idealism. ... The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein is an entertaining and bracingly intelligent yarn, but, try as he will, Ackroyd is hard pressed to spark an idea that isn't already burning, fiercely, in Mary Shelley's still-vital novel." Terrence Rafferty

San Antonio Exp-News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Ackroyd's novel is neither better nor worse than Mary Shelley's. It is a modern retelling that intelligently restores the story's relevance--after all of the horror-genre treatments in the 20th century destroyed the initial messages of Shelley's innovative story." David Hendricks

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It will enhance your knowledge of the original version, and it may give you nightmares. ... The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein tries to cram too much into its 353 pages; the lives of some very august personages are bent to the will of the plot." Mary Ann Gwinn

Dallas Morning News 3 of 5 Stars
"Although the novel begins rather slowly, spending the early chapters establishing the 19th-century period feel, it picks up steam in the second half. ... Complicating the ideological element of the story is its surprise ending, a turn that makes the reader reconsider the entire plot." William J. Cobb

Independent (UK) 1.5 of 5 Stars
"The mileage in reinventing old stories or fictionalising the lives of real people from the past often begs the question: and the point is? ... This is a self-indulgent game showcasing someone's literary knowledge, when it could, and should, have been something else entirely." Lesley McDowell

Critical Summary

Peter Ackroyd's fascination with long-dead literary greats is clearly evident, and with The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, he has crafted another smart, well-written, and entertaining tribute. Critics thought Ackroyd's depiction of the tragic scientist was somber and authentic, a far cry from the cackling megalomaniac often portrayed in popular media. One notable voice of dissent came from the Independent, which felt that the increasingly widespread practice of using another author's characters and life story (remember the most recent, overt example: Seth Grahamme-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, 4 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2009) smacked of opportunism and encroachment. Still, most reviewers recommended The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein as a fine supplement to, but not a substitute for, Mary Shelley's 19th-century classic.