Halloween Audiobook Review: “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus”

Halloween Audiobook Review: “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus”

About the book: Turning 200 this year, Mary Shelly’s classic is foundational to speculative fiction. Guillermo del Toro worships all things Frankenstein, and no wonder: it’s the quintessential sympathetic-monster trope. That said, the monster you’ll meet in these pages (or several hours of narration) is not the one that pop culture might have led you to expect.

For starters, he’s extraordinarily articulate. The first words the monster says to his horrified creator are, “I expected this reception. All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things!”

Then, there are virtually no details regarding how the creature was created. No grave-robbing scenes, no buzzing Tesla coils. “I collected the instruments of life around me,” says Frankenstein, “that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.” That’s pretty much all we get. (Also, no Igor.)

What we do get is a profound sense of empathy with a being who is, after all — and much more deliberately so than his 1931 film counterpart — murderous. The book’s most compelling section has the creature recounting his slow awakening to the reality of his dreadful existence. He curses his creator, who’s abandoned him to the elements. This won’t end well.

About the audiobook: Among several options, I chose the version read by Erica Collins because (a) it seemed fitting to have a woman handle the narration and (b) it cost only 94 cents on Audible. Once I got over the confusing fact that chapter two is included twice (first out of order, right after the introductory letters, and then in its proper place), I enjoyed Collins’s pleasantly melancholy tone. This book is stuffed with self-pity, and she totally nails it.

Trick: Shelley details an incredibly elaborate saga involving the tumultuous history of the family with whom the creature takes (unbeknownst to them) shelter. I had to listen twice to get all the details of their exile from France, their betrayal by the thankless man whose life they save, a star-crossed romance, and their ultimate settling in the countryside where the creature finds them.

Then…surprise! Once they see the creature, everyone in the cottage bolts. “I never saw any of the family of De Lacey more,” mopes the creature. So what was the point of that historical detour? Sometimes you just get caught up in a story, I guess.

Treat: The book is very moody and mournful, but except for a couple of scenes, not particularly scary. Maybe the best “boo!” comes just after the creature has been brought to life, when Frankenstein takes to bed, wondering what the hell he’s just done. He’s lying there nervously when he gets…a visitor.

I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch — the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. 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.

And you only have your own damned self to blame, Victor.

Jay Gabler