Feb 5, 2009

The Frankenstein Diaries

by Hubert Venables

This brief but intense book purports to shed light on the story of Frankenstein, claiming it is factual by presenting a collection of papers said to be Viktor Frankenstein's own diary pages, alongside numerous "scientific" drawings, engravings depicting key characters and equipment Viktor used, and studies of the monster itself. The pages are even tanned yellow in order to look aged, and there are images of hand-written diary pages included (in flowery German script). At the beginning the text is presented as being discovered and analyzed by one Reverend Hubert, eventually his voice drops out and it's just Viktor's diary entries. The end is wrapped up with observations by Eustace, Viktor's brother, who arrives at the castle too late to give assistance and pieces together what happened from the wreckage he finds. The style of language is close enough to Shelly's own that this easily feels like a companion piece, and the illustrations are interesting- many reminded me of anatomical studies done in life drawing classes at art school- but nowhere approach the mastery I appreciated in Bernie Wrightson's work.

It's been years since I read Shelly's Frankenstein, but I recall enough to realize that Venables has turned the story upon its head. In this version, Viktor marries his cousin before he creates the monster, and she dies in a suspicious accident. After that he retires alone to a deserted family castle in Bavaria, where he works in solitude (with Igor's help at first) to create the monster. The creature never roams further than the local village, is educated partially by Viktor himself, and attempts to create its own companion by crudely imitating Viktor's experiments. It eventually remains barricaded in the dilapidated castle with Viktor until the final struggle. In a way this version feels just as tragic as Shelly's. Viktor's internal dilemma is starkly portrayed: at first he is full of grandiose thoughts, certain his work is divinely inspired. Then he becomes tormented by nightmares and shifts his prespective entirely, believing that evil has infiltrated his mind for its own purposes. I am glad I was far enough removed from my reading of Shelly's work to not feel annoyed by how The Frankenstein Diaries deviates from the original; I enjoyed reading this strange, macabre and haunting story.

Rating: 3/5                 120 pages, 1980

Other opinions at:
More Than Words


Nymeth said...

I love the sound of this! I actually tend to like reinterpretations of classic stories, and this sounds right up my alley.

Leah said...

I am very drawn to this book, mainly because I did not enjoy the original as much as I'd hoped. I completely admire the concept and it being a woman writer but found the style plodding and reliant on coincidence too much, so I am drawn to this book to add a further dimension to an inspirational story. Thank you for your review!

Jeane said...

Nymeth- I'm glad to have brought it to your attention. The book seems rather obscure- no one else on Library Thing has reviewed it, for example, and only one reader on Amazon- so if you get a chance to read it, I'll be eagerly awaiting your opinion!

Leah- some of the coincidences in the original left me questioning too, like how the monster taught himself to read. I found that implausible. This version, while still very melodramatic, is more straightforward.

Anonymous said...

I just finished the book in one continuous read. I really enjoyed it. At first I believed it a true presentation of diary entries, but soon realized the fiction. Nevertheless, it is a great story rich in allegory and prophetic warning. It provides a wonderful representation and introduction to a familiar cast of characters, but never fails to captivate the reader. I did not grow bored throughout this book. As a matter of fact, I read it through from start to finish! This book was part of a massive gothic fiction vein I find myself in at present, and it goes well against the works of Patrick McGrath I read beforehand. A really good read!