Ebook, 258 pages
Published: August 28, 2014 by Barbican Press (1st published August 22, 2014)
Setting: The Scottish Orkneys
In a tiny community of thirty villagers, Oona and her best friend, May, are reaching womanhood. The island’s newest resident, Victor Frankenstein, seems to bring dark omens — and even death — in his wake.
As May’s wedding day draws near, she goes in service for Dr. Frankenstein, cleaning and preparing his meals. One night she enlists Oona’s help in a disturbing surreptitious mission for her employer. Oona becomes afraid for her friend and for the village, and her fears are not unfounded — bizarre, horrifying events, including the disappearance of a villager, may be linked to Dr. Frankenstein’s strange experiments.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been adapted in myriad ways during the last century. It has the vibe of a Gothic novel — reflecting its roots in the romantic era of poetry and literature — but is essentially a heart-wrenching story of a creature born in innocence, rejected by his “father” and creator, and driven to evil because he is treated as a monster and by his own yearning for love and belonging. It has become an iconic tale about the dangers of tampering with nature and the consequences of hubristically “playing god.” At the time Frankenstein was written, this now-familiar theme was prescient, and it laid the groundwork for much of modern science fiction.
Horsley’s novel is an eloquent tribute to its original source and, at the same time, she has created something unique and intriguing. In keeping with Frankenstein’s romantic roots, The Monster’s Wife is somewhat poetic in style, with language rich in imagery and metaphor, and carefully observes the natural world. I loved the vibrant descriptions of the coast of a small Scottish island.
Horsley’s novel reflects Frankenstein’s themes of the dangers of tampering with nature, rejection in the face of longing for acceptance and belonging, wildness versus civilization, the essence of life, and what makes us human. With careful attention to descriptive detail and skillful use of language that fits the setting, she vividly conjures eighteenth century Scotland. She also makes skillful use of Celtic folklore, reflecting the novel’s themes and adding to the sense of place. The result is an engrossing, emotional story that has a distinctly literary and mythological vibe yet, at the same time, feels vibrantly real.
I also admire the development of Oona’s character. She has a congenital heart defect which will shorten her life, a fact she has come to accept, yet she is intelligent, curious, and full of life. She feels like an authentic adolescent. She is passionate, eager to experience life, and intensely aware of the world around her. At times she is wise and brave, and at others she is naive or a bit self centered and petulant. It is difficult to capture the essence of adolescence, and the author accomplished this.
After the reader has become absorbed in the characters and setting, the second half of the novel becomes increasingly suspenseful. Although I thought I knew what would happen, I stayed up most of the night, turning pages, so I could finish the book. 🙂 Then the story deviated from the original novel, delivering a surprising ending.
This is an impressive debut novel by this author. I expect it will be popular with readers of classics, fans of mystery and suspense novels, and lovers of general fiction. The story and characters will definitely stick with me for some time to come.