#30Authors is an annual event connecting readers, authors, and bloggers. Throughout the month of September, 30 authors review their favorite books on 30 blogs in 30 days. The event has been met with incredible support from and success within the literary community. In the six months following the event’s inaugural launch, the concept was published as an anthology by Velvet Morning Press (Legacy: An Anthology). Started by The Book Wheel, #30Authors remains active throughout the year and you can join in the fun by following along on Twitter at @30Authors, using the hashtag, #30Authors, or purchasing the anthology. To learn more about the event and to see the full schedule, please click here.
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I’m so excited to be participating in this event and hosting Anna North, author of The Life and Death of Sophie Stark. Anna reviews Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, one of my all-time favourite classic novels not only because of the story, but because of the intriguing way the story came to be written. Mary Shelley also has a fascinating history and family background. Reading this review makes me want to pick up Frankenstein right now.
You probably know the story of Frankenstein. Even if you haven’t seen one of the many movies (a new one with Daniel Radcliffe comes out in November), the basics are deeply ingrained in American culture: Mad scientist and hunchbacked assistant create monster; mad scientist yells, “It’s alive!”; monster lurches around with bolts in neck and big shoes, making trouble.
There’s nothing wrong with this story — a lot of it comes from James Whale’s 1931 movie, which is one of my favorites of all time. But what’s actually in Mary Shelley’s novel is much weirder.
The monster, for one thing, doesn’t stomp around communicating in monosyllables. He’s actually a genius — he teaches himself language by watching a family, and soon he’s reading Paradise Lost. He also understands morality and he wants to be good, but humans — who panic and attack him every time they see his hideous, giant form — essentially drive him to evil. It’s a horror novel but it’s also a tragedy: Frankenstein has created an intelligent, sensitive person who will forever be ostracized from human society, and one of the central questions of the book is whether he’ll do anything to ease his monster’s pain.
Frankenstein is interesting on a lot of subjects, from art to social class to science (though don’t look for a recipe for creating monsters — Frankenstein says he won’t explain why he did it, for fear you’ll try it at home). But when I reread it again this summer, I was most interested in the way it describes learning. There’s Frankenstein’s education — he implies that if he’d been a better student, he might not have created the monster at all. But there’s also the monster’s. It’s fascinating to watch him teach himself morals and aesthetics with little or no help, but maybe even more fascinating is watching him learn to see. Here’s how he describes the period just after his birth:
“By degrees, I remember, a stronger light pressed upon my nerves, so that I was obliged to shut my eyes. Darkness then came over me, and troubled me; but hardly had I felt this, when, by opening my eyes, as I now suppose, the light poured in upon me again. I walked, and, I believe, descended; but I presently found a great alteration in my sensations. Before, dark and opaque bodies had surrounded me, impervious to my touch or sight; but I now found that I could wander on at liberty, with no obstacles which I could not either surmount or avoid.”
To read Frankenstein is, among other things, to hear from a being who has a perfect memory of his own birth, and can describe what the very dawn of consciousness feels like. It’s to watch someone travel from infancy to full (and terrible) knowledge of the world and narrate every step of the way.
Also, there’s a chase scene in the Arctic. Read it today.
Anna North is the author of the novels America Pacifica, published in 2011, and The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, out this May from Blue Rider Press. She is also a staff editor at The New York Times.
At my site: http://www.annanorth.net/blog/book.html
My site: http://www.annanorth.net/