He’s created a monster

<strong>The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein</strong>

<em>Peter Ackroyd</em>

Chatto & Windus, 3

In this ambitious retelling of Mary Shelley’s novel, the young Victor Frankenstein comes from Switzerland to Oxford, where he meets Percy Shelley (or “Bysshe”, as he prefers). Fired with pseudo-Romantic ideals, Victor sets about the business of trying to “harness nature”.

He tinkers with putrefied corpses in a shed before moving to east London, where he falls in with the “doomsday men”, who are able to provide fresher bodies for his experiments. The tale mimics and diverges from the original, mixing fiction with historical biography (it is populated by Wordsworth, the Shelleys, Byron and Keats), and a nod to Jekyll and Hyde is thrown in for good measure.

Peter Ackroyd’s evocations of London life are characteristically pungent – a city so “monstrous” that it will “create monsters” – but his characters are less memorable and at times superficially realised: Bysshe has “long auburn locks” and is prone to lying on sofas and murmuring poetry; Frankenstein’s college servant, Florence, is a simple woman suspicious of all things “medicinal” who calls him “Mr Frankenlime”. The story does not offer any profundities beyond: “Am I monstrous? Or are you monstrous? Or is the world monstrous?” Mary Shelley posed these questions more effectively.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2008 issue of the New Statesman, The death of Gucci capitalism