About the book: Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella is deliciously spooky. Despite its concise length, it takes its time getting to the horror at its core. We first meet Utterson, the redoubtable attorney who trusts the best in human nature and simply cannot believe that his good friend Jekyll has been caught up with the atrocious Hyde. Jekyll reassures Utterson that everything’s under control…until it isn’t.
Utterson’s voice is key to the effect of the story, emphasizing at every turn just how deeply, deeply disturbing this all is. He sets the scene with descriptions of London’s darkest, most desolate corners; and serves as a confidante to various characters. This also allows Stevenson to construct a nested series of revelations, where we learn only gradually what the truth of Jekyll’s dilemma might be. It’s all wonderfully chilling, its psychological resonance very much intact after a century and a half.
About the audiobook: From among various options, I went with Brian Kelly’s budget reading, and I wasn’t sorry I saved the money. While the recording is a little hissy, that only adds to the ambiance; and Kelly’s voice is the definition of sepulchral. It’s an easy recommendation for three hours and ten minutes of your October audiobook listening.
Trick: To say too much is to spoil the surprises, even though virtually every English speaker alive today knows the basics of the Jekyll and Hyde trope. Just pop in your earbuds and enjoy the marvels of Stevenson’s construction, which telescopes in to a fateful moment and then pulls back to reveal the truth of a seemingly mysterious matter.
Treat: On top of serving as a psychological horror story, Jekyll and Hyde makes a good detective tale as well. The addiction metaphor is plain, but is there a gay subtext in there too? Are Jekyll’s friends more appalled that Hyde might have compromising information on the good doctor — or that such a respectable scientist might be enjoying the Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name with that shadowy figure who has such a convenient back-door key? As usual, fan fiction knows the answer.
“Of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness,” writes Jekyll, “even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.”