Frankenstein, for me, fell short of fully realizing the ideas that it set out to explore in the story told by Mary Shelly. In Frankenstein’s Monster, however, Susan Heyboer O’Keefe builds on the foundation set forth by Shelly in Frankenstein, and in being free from the creation/education of monster story, is able to delve more fully and accessibly into the underlying themes of the classic novel. In saying this I don’t mean to take way from anything that O’Keefe herself accomplishes with this novel, on the contrary her writing is deep, thoughtful and thought provoking- indicating a deep understanding of Frankenstein and the best way to frame this story in a new way for modern readers.
Frankenstein’s Monster picks up 10 years after the original begins. With death of his mentor, Victor Frankenstein, Captain Robert Walton takes up the mantle and obsession of tracking and killing the monster. The monster alternately hides from and tries to make a place for himself in society, along the way adopting the first name Victor, after his “father”, and the surname Hartmann – acknowledging the horrific appearance and beastly nature he struggles with daily. Both Walton and the monster are consistent to their nature in the original work, and develop along plausible and expected lines. Each grows more harried and unstable with the unrelenting pressure of the existence and pursuit of the other. The mostly first person narrative illuminates the monster’s personality and his struggle to not only grow, but to understand who he is and discover if he is capable of attaining worthiness as a man. Journal entries also provide further illumination into Walton.
New characters introduced by O’Keefe are equally as complex in their own personal struggles, and their reactions and interactions with the monster, Victor Hartmann. Ultimately Frankenstein’s monster is a child in search of the love and guidance of a father, and the evolution of that search takes him not only through many countries, but through extreme emotional highs and lows. Exploration of the monster’s sexuality is frank, and welcome if a little disturbing, and the questions of what make a man, the monstrous things men do, and when life begins are considered, among other things. The monster’s story is compelling, horrifying, and compassionately rendered by this author’s first foray into writing adult fiction.