Summary and book reviews of The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein

A Novel

By Peter Ackroyd

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2009,
    368 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2010,
    368 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

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Book Summary

When two nineteenth-century Oxford students—Victor Frankenstein, a serious researcher, and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley—form an unlikely friendship, the result is a tour de force that could only come from one of the world's most accomplished and prolific authors.

This haunting and atmospheric novel opens with a heated discussion, as Shelley challenges the conventionally religious Frankenstein to consider his atheistic notions of creation and life. Afterward, these concepts become an obsession for the young scientist. As Victor begins conducting anatomical experiments to reanimate the dead, he at first uses corpses supplied by the coroner. But these specimens prove imperfect for Victor's purposes. Moving his makeshift laboratory to a deserted pottery factory in Limehouse, he makes contact with the Doomsday men—the resurrectionists—whose grisly methods put Frankenstein in great danger as he works feverishly to bring life to the terrifying creature that will bear his name for eternity.

Filled with literary lights of the day such as Bysshe Shelley, Godwin, Lord Byron, and Mary Shelley herself, and penned in period-perfect prose, The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein is sure to become a classic of the twenty-first century.

One

I was born in the alpine region of Switzerland, my father owning much territory between Geneva and the village of Chamonix where my family resided. My earliest memories are of those glistening peaks, and I believe that my spirit of daring and ambition was bred directly from the vision of altitudes. I felt the power and grandeur of nature there. The ravines and the precipices, the smoking waterfalls and the raging torrents, had always the effect of sanctifying my life until one white and shining morning I felt compelled to cry out to the Maker of the Universe, "God of the mountains and the glaciers, preserve me! I see, and feel, the solitude of your spirit among the ice and snow!" As if in response to my voice I heard the cracking of the ice and thunder of an avalanche, on a distant peak, louder than the bells of the cathedral St. Pierre in the narrow streets of old Geneva.

I exulted in storms. Nothing entranced me more than the roaring of the wind among the upright masses of rock, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In his early discussions with the fervently atheistic Bysshe, Victor begins to question the existence of God. Indeed, he wonders, "This deity was venerated as the creator of life, but what if others of less exalted nature were able to perform the miracle? What then?" What connection is there between science and religion in this novel? Are the two arranged as opposites here? As complements? As substitutes?

  2. Were you surprised that Victor was willing to perform his experiments on the body of his friend, Jack Keat? Victor asks himself, "Was I now to abandon his, and my, beliefs for the sake of my conscience?" His answer is quite clear, but how would you answer this question?

  3. What were your impressions of the creature Victor brings to ...
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Reviews

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Under Ackroyd's romantic, rapid pen, Frankenstein becomes accessible, easy to absorb, and light. He continues to prod the original tale's questions of creation and death, but does so at a modern pace. Needless to say, the tale has morphed considerably since its roots in Paradise Lost. Satisfied readers of Ackroyd's text will not find the truest, purest rendition of Frankenstein, but they will delight in a nineteenth-century tale of terror that still captures our attention in a twenty-first-century form.   (Reviewed by Elizabeth Whitmore Funk).

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Media Reviews
The Seattle Times

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein tries to cram too much into its 353 pages; the lives of some very august personages are bent to the will of the plot. But the voice of the monster — ecstatic at his rebirth, then aghast at what he has become, distills both the 19th century's wonderment at the potential of science, and the 21st century's horror at its more diabolical outcomes.

The New York Times - Terrence Rafferty

…Ackroyd does the Frankenstein mythology a tremendous service by restoring its intellectual weight, its emotional gravitas, its air of tragic idealism…The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein is an entertaining and bracingly intelligent yarn.

The Los Angeles Times

... this fast-paced, most readable novel is charged with electricity and enchanting mischief.

School Library Journal (Adult Books for High School Students)

This is an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys Gothic, historical, or alternative fiction.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [M]ost will agree that his novel is a brilliant riff on ideas that have informed literary, horror and science fiction for nearly two centuries.

Library Journal

A heart-stopping journey through early 19th-century England...essential for Ackroyd fans and readers who can't get enough of Frankenstein's monster.

Kirkus Reviews

A questionable mishmash of cultural, scientific, literary, psychological and political material gives birth to an atmospheric but unnatural doppelganger to Shelley's classic.

The Guardian (UK)

...the scenes are neither quite plausibly real nor properly fictional... Like everything else in this disappointing book, the theme of doubleness... exerts no force.

The Independent (UK)

Ackroyd takes Mary Shelley's hint of the doppelganger, and plays with it fascinatingly in a fast-paced thriller.... The novel leaps to its climax nimbly as a pursuing fiend, and ends suitably in fiery revelation.

Daily Telegraph (UK)

A brilliant jeu d'esprit. Above all, it stands as a tribute to the power of the human imagination.

The Times (UK)

It takes a writer of considerable confidence, wit and skill to attempt a modern retelling of a bona fide English classic...[Ackroyd] is the man for the job.... terrifying and fascinating in equal measure.... An intelligent, creepily beautiful and haunted thing.

Scotland on Sunday

Read [Ackroyd's] fictions at your peril for what you meet are driven obsessions, deceptions and plots of a stylish complexity, mingling wit and high intelligence...a brilliant, impressionistic piece of literary art, and Ackroyd's forte.

Evening Standard (UK)

Ackroyd's new novel works on so many levels it's difficult to know where to begin. As a pacy thriller, it delivers assured edge of the seat action. As historical fiction, it abounds in authentic detail...as homage to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein it brings both invention and wit...a worthy shadow to Mary Shelley's creation, roaming with impish disruption between the pages of history, biography and literature.

Spectator (UK)

Ackroyd's novel is, like its famous predecessor, immensely readable. It crackles with that peculiar mixture of ebullience and self-loathing that galvanises Ackroyd's resurrection of the past. His ear for Romantic language is almost pitch-perfect.

Daily Express (UK)

Thrilling concoction....Ackroyd's telling of the tale is a worthy revival--I found his book so creepy I kept the bedroom light on all night.

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Beyond the Book

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in London in 1797. As the daughter of the feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and William Godwin, a political philosopher and an early anarchist proponent, Mary was born into a family that challenged social norms and encouraged innovative thinking. For much of her life she was haunted by the memory of her mother, who died soon after giving birth to her daughter. For Mary, her mother's death was a burden, and a source of blame and resentment by her father.

When Mary was sixteen years old she was introduced to Percy Bysshe Shelley, a poet, philosopher, and political disciple of Mary's father. Though Percy ...

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