Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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Back when I was studying for my GCSEs I had to read Frankenstein as part of the course. In short, I hated it. I found the olden language annoying and hard to follow. Back then I didn’t read much. Frankenstein was the first pre-twentieth century novel I’d read. Recently I decided to reread Frankenstein, having read many other books since my first encounter with it. It’s now become one of my favourite novels.

Frankenstein is another novel where everybody knows the plot. Victor Frankenstein, while at University, discovers how to create life. With this knowledge he creates a hideous creature which he despises almost immediately. The concept of the novel is such a delicious one and is executed almost perfectly. Frankenstein is a character that’s easy to sympathise with and yet loathe at the same time – growing less likable as the novel progresses. While it’s definitely hard to agree with some of his decisions, it’s easy to understand why he made them. Frankenstein’s “monster” is the real star of the show though, with the section being told from his point of view being the best part. The relationship between him and his creator is one of the most fascinating ones in literature, perfectly summed up by one of their first encounters:

‘His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs.’

What Frankenstein sees as a threat, we see as an attempt at making a connection. Every time the monster tries to connect with his creator or reach out to for help – fitting, given Frankenstein’s father-like role – he is shunned and insulted. When trying to make a connection with Felix and his family, the monster is only treated kindly by the blind-man, who judges him based on his personality. Everyone else – including the man who created him – judges the monster by his grotesque appearance, driving him to act in a way that his features suggest he should.

Frankenstein creates the monster for own curiosity, not thinking about the consequences. Examining the novel strictly from his point of view makes it look like a classic monster story. He creates a monster and the monster slowly takes away everything he cares about. His friends, his family and his wife. Eventually he himself dies while chasing the monster. Read from the monster’s point of view however, we can understand why he murdered those closest to Frankenstein. All he desires is companionship, something Frankenstein repeatedly deprives him of. By the end of the novel Frankenstein has no left except Walton and the creature he created. He has been sunk to the same level as the monster, causing him to focus on it. While their chase towards Antarctica is based around revenge, it is also the only time that Frankenstein is truly interested in his creature and the creature receives some attention from the man that created him. The monster is saddened when his creator dies not because they never received their final confrontation but because he truly has nobody left. At least when Frankenstein was chasing him, the one man that had the potential to understand him, there was a flicker of hope. When Walton finds him crying over Frankenstein’s corpse it’s because there is truly nothing left for him in the world.

There are so many aspects of this novel that it’s impossible to touch on all of them in this review. Walton, generally a framing device, doesn’t serve too much of purpose until the end where we get to see the monster’s reaction to his creator’s death. He also ties everything together thematically when he decides to turn back, siding with his men. Sure, he’s likely to be seen as a failure but Frankenstein’s story warns us that our ambition can quite easily be the death of us. If he hadn’t tried to replicate life – and spent time with his neglected family – he would be happily married. Frankenstein never truly seems to grasp his error, pushing Walton to follow his ambition despite what happened to himself. The framing devices used also raise a few more questions – especially in relation to how the monster is portrayed. Frankenstein represents the monster as ‘ghastly’ and ‘grotesque’, suggesting that it’s motives are negative. With everything being filtered through Frankenstein and Walton’s points of view, it’s hard to know if the monster is truly represented accurately.

There are very few negatives when it comes to this novel. The realm of believably is pushed a few times – such as when the monster learns how to read and write – but this is a novel about a scientist who creates a man. Frankenstein has an incredibly strong storyline, interesting characters and some great themes to tie everything together. I don’t think I could ask for much more, really.

Reading Round-Up

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I’m still struggling to keep a regular schedule on here thanks to University, but I promised I’d write-up about a few books on here a while ago. So here’s a round-up of what books I’ve been devouring recently.

Save the Cat (Blake Snyder)
I haven’t read many books on writing, but everyone seemed to blab on about this one so I thought I’d give it a go. Overall I found the advice a little bit mixed – partially because novels don’t always fit into the same mold as Hollywood blockbusters. Should I be trusting a guy whose biggest hits are Stop! My Mother Will Shoot and Blank Check? To me, the best bit of advice in here was the suggestion that you should be able to sum up your story in a line or two. While I didn’t find all of the book to be helpful, it did push me to go over the structure of my novel again and make some serious changes. That alone makes it a worthwhile read.

Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk)
One of the best books I’ve read so far this year – Cat’s Cradle might just edge it out. It feels so confident and yet so messy at the same time. It spends barely any time on exposition, and when it does its a joy to read. After reading so many 100,000 word classics over the summer, this book feels pretty refreshing. Fight Club clocks in at just under 50,000 words and packs in so much story and so many fantastic ideas. The plot may have lost a little bit of its magic, seeing as though I’ve already seen the film, but this is a novel everyone should read. It’s a shame that the film has overshadowed the book, when the latter is definitely superior.

In a Glass Darkly (Sheridan LeFanu)
I was planning on doing a classics-style review of this one but couldn’t think of enough things to say about it. So here’s some quick thoughts on each story… ‘Green Tea’: the strongest of the bunch, capturing the weirdness and eeriness that makes me love ghost stories. Not everyone is afraid of monkeys, but the one in this story is considerably scarier than most human ghosts in other stories. ‘The Familiar’: this one was a bit more so-so. While I still think it worked well as a ghost story, it didn’t really hit the highs of ‘Green Tea’, coming across as slightly more generic. ‘Mr. Justice Harbottle’: this one just reminded me of ‘A Christmas Carol’; a ghost themed cautionary tale. The darkness of the ending highlights how different an author LeFanu was from most of his contemporaries. ‘The Room in the Dragon Volant’: yeah, I’m not sure why this one is in the collection. Not only does it feel much too long, but it’s not even a ghost story. The story is your general romantic blah up until the last ten-or-so pages which are fantastic. Undercutting our expectations and weaving every little detail together to create a crushing ending. ‘Carmilla’: the most well-known story from the collection by quite a lot. For one thing it highlights how much of an influence Stoker went on to have in relation to the portrayal of vampires. I didn’t care for this one as much as I wanted to, but I appreciate its edginess for its time.

Top Authors I’ve Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More

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Various things have caused me to be pretty inactive lately, so I thought I’d do another Top Ten Tuesday. Here are my top ten authors I’ve read one book from but need to read more… (In alphabetical order).

Margaret Atwood
Book read: The Penelopiad. I wasn’t completely mad about this book, but it made enough of an impression for me to want to read some more of her stuff. A Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin in particular are very high on my reading list (I even have a copy of the former ready!) I guess The Penelopiad suffered slightly due to me not being too familiar with The Odyssey.

Samuel Beckett
Book read: Waiting for Godot (that counts as a book, right?) Really loved this play, even getting inspired enough to write my own take on it, and want to see what Beckett’s other stuff is like. I generally love stuff that goes against the mainstream. I have a copy of Endgame ready to read and am really eager to see some of his stuff on the actual stage too… If I get the chance.

Gillian Flynn
Book read: Gone Girl. Gone Girl was a great read, there’s no doubt about that. It wasn’t thought-provoking or anything, but it was a proper page-turner with interesting characters and witty dialogue. Sometimes it’s nice to read something you can just enjoy without having to think too much. As well as seeing Gone Girl’s film adaption next month, I’d really like to see if Flynn’s other books match up to the one that made her famous.

Joseph Heller
Book read: Catch-22. When it comes to old Heller, it seems like everyone only talks about Catch-22 (it is great) despite him having quite a few other published books. I’d like to give at least one of them ago to see if the author’s first novel was a one-off stroke of genius or just one part of a fantastic body of work. Closing Time in particular sounds great.

China Miéville
Book read: Embassytown. It’s been almost a year since I read Embassytown and I’m appalled with myself for not getting round to any of Miéville other books. I’ve got a copy of The City and The City now though, and I’m very excited to get stuck in!

Chuck Palahniuk
Book read: Fight Club. I didn’t expect to love Fight Club quite as much as I did and as a result I’m interested in seeing what other twisted stuff Palahniuk has to offer. If any of his books end up being half as enjoyable as Fight Club, then I’ll be very satisfied.

Sylvia Plath
Book read: Ariel. Okay, okay – I’m not too big a fan of poetry, most of it just goes swish over my head. Ariel is pretty damn fantastic. You can just feel the emotion pouring off the page. I’d love to delve into more of Plath’s poetry, maybe even her novel, The Bell Jar, or, heck, just read Ariel for a second time.

Thomas Pynchon
Book read: The Crying of Lot 49. Wasn’t too sure what to make of Lot 49 and it would probably do me well to read it through a second time. It was interesting enough for me to want to delve further into the world of Pynchon though – and get thoroughly confused all over again.

Samuel Richardson
Book read: Pamela. I started reading Pamela out of literary interest but a few hundred pages later it transformed into a bit of a hate-read. I wanted to see how Richardson could honestly stretch out so little plot for such a long time. It was crazy. Knowing that Richardson’s other famous novel, Clarissa, is heralded as one of the longest books ever, I can’t help but be curious to see whether he learned a thing or two from how poor Pamela was.

J.R.R. Tolkien
Book read: The Hobbit. I’m probably going to end up getting lynched for not reading Lord of the Rings, aren’t I? I found The Hobbit to be enjoyable – though the thought of three three hour-long movies is very frightening – but not enough for me to rush out and buy the famous trilogy that succeeds it. Of course, it’s on my reading list or I wouldn’t be mentioning it here… just not too high up.

Downtime

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This week I reworked the plot of my novel, sticking every major scene onto flash cards. I’m raring to go, I want to go in and squish all those issues in the first draft. But I’m forcing myself to wait a full-month and still have another week to go. Sigh.

I’ve mainly been using this downtime to get some reading done – which I will go into more detail about in another post – including the Fight Club and the seemingly adored Save the Cat. It’s surprising how much of an effect these books have had on my plan for the next draft. Fight Club has made me realise that short, punchy chapters might serve the story better overall. The chapters in the book never feel like a chore and I would very much like mine to feel the same. While I’ve found Save the Cat to be a mixed bag, there is definitely some gold in there. In the first chapter Snyder argues how important a logline is – having the ability to sum up your story in a sentence. And it made me really think, ‘yeah, what is the story?’

I’ve also started writing another big piece. I’m not sure if it’ll be a novel or a novella yet, but I’m going at a much slower pace this time, aiming for a page a day. It’s a ghost story- one of my favourite types of tales. I don’t know if I’ll see it through to the end though, given my track-record.

Review: Deadwood Season 3

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Dammit, HBO. There are so many shows I can list that feel as though they had a season or two too many. Deadwood is a show that got too few. I wish I could take the largely dull first part of The Sopranos’ final season and give the episodes to Deadwood. This final season was terrific but it just made me want more. It’s pretty conclusive as things go but at the same time there was so much left to explore. There was definitely a couple more seasons of material left. What’s even more a shame is that a lot less people know about Deadwood than Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos, The Wire and other great dramas because of this. This final season establishes it as one of the finest TV shows I’ve ever seen.

Season Three focuses on George Hurst’s push for further power in the camp, trying to gain its many gold claims – Alma’s especially. He proves ruthless in his pursuit, forcing the camp to come together against him. The elections for the positions of mayor and sheriff are also officially held. All of the cast is fantastic like usual. Gerald McRaney is fantastic as George Hurst and makes a big addition to the cast. Any time he interacts with another character you know it’s going to be good (especially Farnum). There are a few more new characters that pop up such as Jack Langrishe and his acting trope and George Hurst’s cook Aunt Lou, but none of them stood out as much as Hurst. The main issue with all these new characters is that some of the old ones get a lot less screen-time. Cochran comes to mind with regards to this. While he does have a storyline, it kind of feels like the writers forget about it halfway through the season. There’s also a few other storylines that feel like build up to the fourth season. Again, it’s a bit frustrating not being able to see where it would all go next. While I would say there are a few more so-so storylines than the last two seasons, it does feature some of the show’s best moments.

In my reviews of the past two seasons I noted that there wasn’t really a clear villain. In Season Three it’s George Hurst. You can definitely see the end-goal the season is building towards, making it feel a bit more focused than the first two seasons (not that their lack of focus was bad). Up to this point the show has mostly been about building up the camp and in this season we see it face its first true threat. It ends up being the strongest storyline in the season, acting as another reason to bring the camp together. In terms of the weaker storylines, most of these revolve around the new characters. Apart from Jack, none of the acting trope are particularly compelling and a plotline focusing on them takes up far too much of the latter part of the season. The best thing I can say about them is that their presence leads to one of my favourite sequences in the season in the episode ‘Amateur Night’. Similarly, other than her relationship with Richardson, Aunt Lou doesn’t stand out too much. The storyline with her son in particular feels very ‘eh’. Knowing this was the last season, it’s hard not to wish that the writers chose to spend more time with old favourites rather than these new characters.

Despite being the most uneven of the three seasons, I feel this one was the strongest. It had most of my least favourite moments but also most of my favourites.  I’ve had a lot of fun watching this show and it’s definitely one of my favourites now. The Wire and Breaking Bad probably just edge it out, but it’s still a show that everyone should watch.

10/10

 

And now for some more spoiler-y thoughts:

-Best moment? Seriously, there are way too many to choose from. Jane telling her story to the school children, Hurst mutilating Al, Alma and Hurst’s meeting, Dan’s big fight, Bullock taking Hurst by the ear, the town meeting, everyone showing their talent in ‘Amateur Night’, Richardson comforting Aunt Lou, Al and the handkerchief seller, Alma being shot at, Al kicking the crap out of Hurst’s man, Joanie standing up against Cy, Ellsworth’s death, Trixie shooting Hurst, Johnny talking about the ants inside the wall, Hurst checking Jen’s body, Al cleaning the blood off of his floor… Yeah, way too many.

-Plotline I’m most sad not to see followed up on: I was really looking forward to seeing Merrick receive competition from Hurst’s own newspaper. It also would’ve been interesting to see how The Gem’s fire would’ve panned out on the show.

-I haven’t bothered with any of Milch’s other shows yet, but am fairly eager to give Luck a go. The only thing that makes me hesitant is its very short amount of episodes. It seems like it’s going to end just as I’m getting into it.

-What was with the whole Wyatt Earp storyline? It literally went nowhere and just seemed to eat up time. The same with Odell.

-The whole Steve/General plot also felt really strange. While I liked some parts of it, I still feel like it ate up too much of the middle-part of the season.

-As I mentioned above, I loved the moment when Joanie, Jane and Mose stood up against Cy. Given how heart-warming a storyline Joanie and Jane’s relationship has been and how irrelevant Cy’s presence has felt this season (although he’s still interesting to watch) it seems fitting.

-Best episode: ‘The Two-Headed Beast’. I could’ve gone for almost any episode this time around but the fight between Dan and The Captain and Bullock taking Hurst by the ear were just two really fantastic moments.