Book Review: Frankenstein’s Monster by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe

by thiszine

FRANKSTEIN’S MONSTER: A NOVEL
by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe

Three Rivers Press
(October 2010, $15, 352 pages)

If you’ve ever read the original story Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, or loved movies like “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” and “The Bride,” you need to read this novel. I couldn’t pass up a chance to read this sequel; it picks up where Shelley wrote, “borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance,” revealing what happened after Dr. Frankenstein died on the ship.

Frankenstein’s Monster: A Novel, by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe, begins with a detailed journal entry by Captain Robert Walton. He addresses this particular entry to “Margaret,” who is later revealed to be Walton’s sister. He describes the friendship & brotherly feelings he had for Victor Frankenstein and explains why he feels obligated to hunt down the monster that Frankenstein failed to kill: when Walton had found the monster standing over Frankenstein’s body, he realized he realized Frankenstein’s ramblings were not those of a madman after all. Walton immediately gives chase across the ice, planning to kill the monster so he may return to his quest to reach the North Pole. Instead, he loses a finger to the monster, and barely survives the encounter himself.

The story then switches to the monster’s point-of-view and is also written in journal format, with location and date at the start of each entry. Walton has tracked him to Rome, so the monster flees to Venice where he finds companionship with a beggar, Lucio, and a mute woman, Mirabella. O’Keefe does an excellent job of evoking sympathy for the monster, sharing his most intimate thoughts in his journal, with bits of poetry and quotations from the many books that he reads. Despite his acts of violence, I am reluctant to refer to him as “the monster,” but he doesn’t take a name for himself until later in the story, eventually adopting the name Victor Hartmann.

When Walton destroys Victor’s meager life in Venice, he becomes the novel’s obvious villain. Victor blames himself for putting his friends in harm’s way; having been hunted down repeatedly by Walton over the past ten years, Victor feels he should have realized Walton would never give up his obsession. Victor finds out that Walton has family in northern England and plots his revenge, not unlike what he did to Frankenstein’s family in the first book.

After finding Walton’s family, Victor also finds his journal, which reveals Walton’s twisted view of the events over the past ten years. While Victor writes his own journal entries, he includes passages from Walton’s journal as well. Walton’s words highlight his madness; Walton’s sister, Margaret, and her daughter, Lily, contrast sharply with Victor’s ideals of what it is to be human and their characters hint at a sickness that runs in the family.

I was crying by the end of the novel; the epilogue (a personal letter from one of the characters) was a superb finish to a tragic tale of a life that wasn’t wanted. A reader’s guide is also included at the back of the book.
This novel is the first one Susan Heyboer O’Keefe has written for an adult audience; previously she has written several children’s books, and has been nominated for numerous literary awards. You can read more about the author here.

– Ursula K. Raphael

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2 Responses to “Book Review: Frankenstein’s Monster by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe”

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