Here are my immediate thoughts after reading Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Spoiler-free for the first half, then there is a spoiler-warning before I start giving bits away.
TL;DR: I loved reading it but it is rather flawed. Frankenstein is a bit pathetic yet his monster is an omnipotent supergenius who defies all logic.
I remained invested in the characters throughout and rocketed through the last few chapters eager to see how it concluded. I liked the writing style too; the text describes similar emotions throughout (basically lots of despair, regret, disgust, fear, self-loathing) but avoids feeling (too) repetitive: each sentence still carries weight and adds in communicating the strength of these emotions. Well, maybe the constant feverishness was a bit repetitive… Pull yourself out of it, man!
There were a few moments that may seem a bit irrational of the (otherwise clearly very intelligent) characters, but these moments could be explained by the overwhelming distress being experienced: while still invested in what was happening next and feeling the emotions of the characters I found their actions understandable (especially from the creature). A sign of good writing, perhaps, though I would’ve hoped a man like Frankenstein could keep a cool head better than that: rather hysterical and whiny for a grave-probing scientist!
The first half seemed stronger to me than the second half. I read the first hundred pages in a day, finding the story from the perspective of Victor Frankenstein very engaging. Then the story changed direction somewhat and slowed down, getting bogged down in tangential details and predictable events or lazy-feeling plot points. The story then picks up again, getting back up to the level of the early chapters.
I haven’t reflected on the deeper meanings or context of the story too much yet, but I’m sure there is a lot more to think about, and that will have been addressed elsewhere in other reviews. I was very much into the story, and the theme of inventing and researching without clear aims (‘Surrogate activities!’ t. Kaczynski) and the dire consequences of unethical glory-seeking are very relevant today. The cruel rejection of people who are superficially different goes without saying.
However, if you’re wanting a story with a solid, flawless plot then maybe this isn’t the book for you. Indeed, the more the story tries to explain the events logically (e.g. how the famous “monster” learns) the less convincing and sillier it sounds. It would have been better to leave the explanations as supernatural or almost-purely resulting from the advanced construction of the monster rather than trying to explain details unconvincingly in real-world ways (this is common sense stuff, not some 21st Century dabbing on outdated science, by the way).
What follows is a list of some of the weakest moments for fun (spoilers alert). The silliest moments have been highlighted in bold text.
- While the creature spies on some cottagers, he is able to follow their entire conversations, presumably from some distance as he is never noticed, and even manages to learn their language fluently in this way over a few months inbetween foraging for berries. 🤔
- A foreigner visits the cottage and is taught the language directly. This is of course very convenient for the creature who stealthily learns about reading and geography this way. Again, very quickly.
- A chapter is dedicated to explaining the family history of the cottagers and the new arrival to the cottage. I was not terribly interested and there was no obvious relevance to this section earlier or later in the novel. I suppose the fact that the monster thought this worth sharing shows that his feelings towards the cottagers were genuine? Maybe this was just for Shelley to say something about the treatment of women in Islamic countries? 🤷
- It is later revealed that, in its first few moments, the creature happens to have taken a piece of paper from Frankensteins room, revealing his name and location. After travelling there, the creature somehow identifies Frankenstein.
- Victor’s boat astonishingly drifts overnight from somewhere near Orkney to… Ireland! Geographers, please explain…
- The creature seems to anticipate the above drift and anticipates the exact area of Irish coat in which Victor Frankenstein will land, framing him.
- Frankenstein arms himself to protect his loved ones and hopefully kill the creature once and for all. While out with Elizabeth, anticipating the worst and with no idea where the creature is, he sends Elizabeth to her room, alone, despite the fact that she is the obvious target and not himself thinking that she would find the possible confrontation disturbing. Zero surprises when, only a paragraph later, she is killed. Maybe that decision made sense to Frankenstein, but while reading I knew exactly what was about to happen there.
I was hoping that Frankenstein was chasing his monster to the North pole with the intent of forgiving and saving the monster and persuading the monster to return to humanity (I already knew that the monster attempts to kill himself at the North pole prior to reading). I think once Frankenstein scrapped the incomplete female-creature it became quite clear that that was not going to be the direction of the story. Instead Frankenstein is dragged down to the level of his creation, alone, living only for revenge.