Frankenstein

img_1149Book: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Date Read: October 4 to November 1, 2021

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

Of course, Boris was right last week: despite the passing of Halloween, it was not the end of the spooky books. I picked this book to read in October for the Unread Shelf Project Prompt: a book you’re secretly afraid of. I was not entirely sure how to apply the “secretly” prompt, since I do not know that I have any books that I am openly afraid of either. I picked this one because it could fit the prompt in two ways: it is a horror story, and it is one that I have been uncertain about starting due to hearing mixed reviews.

My first thoughts as I was reading were that this was not what I was expecting it to be—kind of a silly thought, since I am not really sure what I was expecting. Going in, I only knew the very basics: Frankenstein creates a monster—and Frankenstein is the creator, not the creation. Of course I have seen some pop culture variations on the story, but none in full, so I did not have much to associate with the book itself. After finishing, I would say that the horror aspect was subtler than I had expected. While horror definitely still fits, it is not the action filled, in-your-face type horror.

The “story within a story” framing added an interesting level to the story that I had not anticipated. The novel begins and ends with letters initially unrelated to the main tale, with the story of Frankenstein embedded within them as a story relayed to the letter writer. The initial story contained in the letters follows what I have discovered to be a popular trope from the time period—an adventurer seeking to journey to one of the extremes of the earth, in this case the northern pole. Captain Walton writes to his sister regarding his travels, and then begins to impart the story told by Viktor Frankenstein after picking him up as a castaway. Going beyond simply using this as an entry point for the main plot, the end of the novel loops back to connect the two stories: Viktor’s ambition in creating the monster is paralleled by Walton’s ambition to push forward on his journey, but Walton knows when to stop as his crew begins to fear for their lives on the perilous journey.

This leads in to where the true substance of the horror tale lies—who really is the “monster” in this story? In general, Viktor comes across as the villain, but there is wavering sympathy for both him and his creation woven through the story. The reader is able to feel sympathy for the monster, but it is not totally straightforward, as he clearly does perform evil acts. However, Viktor’s treatment of his creation is the driving force behind the crimes committed—and his seeming inability to recognize his own responsibility for the outcomes tips him further into the side of villain.

Boris’s Thoughts: “As usual, the human botched this one—I bet a cat companion could have solved all of their problems. 2 paws.”

Unread Shelf Progress for October

  • Books Read: 3
  • Books Acquired: 4
  • Total Unread Books: 282

The October Country

img_2499Book: The October Country by Ray Bradbury

Date Read: October 19 to December 1, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I read The October Country a few months back as a sort of reward for myself— if you have been following along, you may recall that in October I was challenged to read a book that scares me, and chose the lowest rated book on my to read shelf, which I had been putting off for quite some time. (I wrote about that here, if you’re interested.) I planned on reading this one next, as a sort of carrot for myself: finish the book I was less excited about so that I could move on to one that I was excited to read. Coincidentally, this was also a good fit for the November Unread Shelf challenge, a book from your favorite genre. I have a tough time defining a favorite genre, but I think this was a good fit for that.

This collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury turned out to be that perfect reward. Although it took me longer than I had hoped to finish, it was well worth the time spent. The October Country is introduced as a sort propensity for darkness that exists within us. A place that is not inherently evil, but perhaps a little creepy with the potential for wickedness. Despite an overwhelming sense of spookiness, I would not classify anything in this book as outright horror.

Rather than go for an upfront scare, these stories leave one with a feeling of uneasiness. Many of the endings are at least a tad ambiguous, leaving the level of horror up to the imagination of the reader. Some ease in with some creepiness, but end with a sense of sadness—a man left with a shattered self, an average person born into a family of immortals, a glimmer of hope with a grave consequence.

One story that particularly stood out to me was The Next in Line, which I am positive relates to the fact that I have visited the location of the story in the recent past. I have very clear memories of walking through the cemetery, and looking down the spiral staircase into the crypt. The Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato looks very different now than the room described in the story, but having seen them for myself, the thought of being haunted by the faces encountered there is by no means a stretch of the imagination.

Boris’s thoughts: “It’s always all about the spooky with you, isn’t it? 3 paws.”

Book: The October Country by Ray Bradbury

Lovecraft Country

img_1914Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

Date Read: July 24 to August 8, 2019

Rating: 3 (of 5) stars

This was definitely an interesting read, although I wanted to enjoy this book so much more than I did. I suspect that part of the problem may be my lack of background knowledge—I have never read anything by H.P. Lovecraft, and my reading of classic science fiction is admittedly lacking. However, I am not fully convinced this would have made a drastic difference in my feelings on the book, although it may have at least increased my appreciation of what Ruff was doing here.

Lovecraft Country falls somewhere between a novel and a collection of short stories, chronicling the lives of an extended African American family living in 1950s Chicago. Each chapter is written as a story centered on a different member of the family, each of them connecting to the main narrative. It includes horrors of two primary varieties: elements of classic horror fiction inspired by Lovecraft and others; the perhaps even more terrifying daily horrors of racism in America. The stories of the struggles encountered in their everyday lives, as well as their research for the “Safe Negro Travel Guide,” paints a picture of that period in American history that many may not realize existed—a bit scary considering that time is not so far back in our history. I am a generally well-read and well-informed person, and this is a perspective of America that I have never had to face myself. Although I know that side of our past exists, I have not previously encountered it in the perspective taken here. Perhaps that is my own fault.

I wish I could find more to say about this book, especially considering my unusually low (for me) rating. (You’re right, three stars is not a bad rating; however, if you have read any of my previous reviews, you know that I tend to give 4-5 stars to most of what I read. I really cannot help myself; I love books too much). With the style of the book I mentioned—the chapters that feel more like individual stories—I felt like there was something missing somewhere. There is some resolution to the overall narrative, but it feels like there is something lacking, although I cannot quite put my finger on what that is. Perhaps there could be more to the story from here? Perhaps something more is needed to fill in the gaps between each of these tales? I am not sure, but it left me feeling a bit unenthused.

Boris’s thoughts: “Curious. You lost me after that scary dog in the second story though. No thank you. 1 paw.”