Mary Shelley – Frankenstein

I often wonder why I, the biggest bookworm in my circle of friends, have always been cursed (or blessed?) with teachers who never required any reading. We were encouraged to read, sure, but we never had reading lists or discussions about the classics, or modern controversial books, not even Orwell. So I’m behind on all of those books and as I’m catching up, I wish more and more my teachers had pushed some of these titles into my hands then.

by Mary Shelley

Published: Signet, 1999 (1818)
ISBN: 0451532244
Pages: 272
Copy: paperback, ebook

My rating: 7/10

First sentence: I am by birth a Genevese; and my family is one of the most distinguished of that republic.

The Original Gothic-Horror Literary Classic! Mary Shelley’s deceptively simple story of Victor Frankenstein and the creature he brings to life, first published in 1818, is now more widely read-and more widely discussed by scholars-than any other work of the Romantic period. From the creature’s creation to his wild lament over the dead body of his creator in the Arctic wastes, the story retains its narrative hold on the reader even as it spins off ideas in rich profusion.

Victor Frankenstein relates the story of his life in minute detail and with great care. We learn first of how his parents met and how he and his siblings grew up in the happiest of families, living in Geneva, surrounded by loving friends and caring neighbours. Once Victor discovers science for himself and moves to Ingolstadt to attend university, his life takes a turn and his sole ambition is the creation of life – without a woman or divine intervention. Yet as soon as his creation comes to life, Victor renounces all responsibility and wants nothing to do with it. Misery ensues…

Dense and maticulate in style, I felt it easy to fall in to this gothic tale of horror and – yes – science fiction. Frankenstein and his family, while rather too good to be true, are characters I came to care about and whose happiness I was hoping for. I was surprised into how much detail the author went relating the family life and, especially later in the book, travels and landscapes. More surprising was the fact that the key scenes – the coming to life of Frankenstein’s creature – as well as some gruesome murders, encounters with the monster, and other potentially impressive scenes – were told almost hastily, as if the author wanted to leave all the details to her readers’ imagination.

My imagination went wild. The themes discussed here make you think. Creating life means having to take responsibility. And whatever it is you create, however much you may see it as an object while it’s a work in progress, as soon as it’s alive, it has a mind of its own. Frankenstein learns this in the most painful way imaginable and as the story progresses, we descend into the darker realms of life.

This was an impressive story with some great charactarisation – especially the monster felt more human to me than some too-good-to-be-true women featured in the story – and just a bit too much travelogue and landscape descriptions for my taste. Ultimately, I am glad to have read it and recommend it with some reservations.

THE GOOD: Raises the question of responsibility for ones actions and of what makes us human.
THE BAD: Some pacing issues in the second half, too much blah-blahing about landscapes for my taste.
THE VERDICT: A dark and intriguing story that fans of gothic horror won’t want to miss.

RATING: 7/10 Very good.

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Steve Niles and Greg Ruth – Freaks of the Heartland

Another Dark Horse graphic novel finds me, yet again, pleasantly surprised and wanting more of the same, please.

by Steve Niles and Greg Ruth

published: July 2012 by Dark Horse Comics
pages: 160
copy: ARC from Dark Horse Comics

my rating: 6,5/10

Trevor’s monstrous little brother lives in the barn behind the house. The boy’s only six years old, but he towers over his older brother, and possesses incredible strength. For years, Trevor has looked after his baby brother, keeping him from the light, but now that’s all about to change. His family’s secret is about to be revealed, uncovering the horrible truth of the small Midwestern town the boys have grown up in.

A dark story told in dark, haunting pictures. I picked this up because of the stunning cover art. Those bleak midwestern fields with that one house set up against a grey background looked like it might be just my cup of tea. Trevor is just a kid who wants to play outside and live his life in peace. With a father like his, however, that’s not always easy. Severe and menacing, the father controls his wife and son and wishes his second son Will were dead. Trevor seems to be the only one caring for Will, the deformed giant of a six-year-old.

When things threaten to get out of hand, Trevor decides to run away with Will. But there is something the large boy still needs to do…

Every time I read a good graphic novel I am impressed by the way simple pictures and very little writing can make me care for a character. But Trevor as well as Will were immediately dear to me. Will may be huge and incredibly strong but he’s never seen the world outside his barn and to me he felt like a small child who needs to be loved and wants to explore the world around him. Trevor is a caring boy who had to grow up way too fast and take things into his own hands.

The plot is solid. A creepy midwestern town full of the expected hateful villagers who are scared more by the unknown than by anything else. If there’s conflict, get your guns (America). As unlikable as the adults in this story were, their actions were believable and drove the plot forward. I would have loved to see a little more of the “freaks” interactions and maybe a slightly less abrupt ending, but overall I really enjoyed this story.

Greg Ruth’s art is perfect for a tale such as this. His sketchy lines and the bleak color palette bring this town to life. There aren’t any bright colors and it becomes clear from the story that this is also the case in Will and Trevor’s lives. Everything seems tinted with grey. Now I’m a fan of strong colors but with a story like this, the choice was perfect. It evoked that haunted, darkly sinister image that goes so well with a tale about the blackest pits of human hearts. Dark Horse Comics are slowly becoming a favorite of mine (and I still haven’t read any of the Serenity comics)

THE GOOD: Creepy, dark pictures telling an even darker tale. Surprisingly vivid protagonists.
THE BAD: Somewhat quick ending, could have had more coverage on the more interesting characters.
THE VERDICT: Very enjoyable read if you want a quick, sinister story about the small-mindedness of midwestern villagers and how children are often the better people.

RATING: 6,5/10

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be definitely checking out the Dark Horse Motion Comics on Felicia Day’s Geek & Sundry channel on Youtube.

Stephen King – It

Whew! This has been quite a journey. It took me the better part of a year to read this book. I devoured 500 pages in two days, then set it aside for months at a time. Which does not mean it was a bad read or got boring, but it’s a lot to take in at once. And Stephen King’s masterful story-telling made it very easy to remember even the smallest details of something read half a year ago. It creeped me out, it made me laugh, it made me cry – the Master did it again!

by Stephen King

published in: 1986
by: Viking
pages: 1376
copy: paperback (huge!)

My rating: 8/10

First sentence: The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end – began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter shell swollen with rain.

Anyone who has seen the movie – and who hasn’t? – will be familiar with the basic plot of this chunky King story. It, a strange force usually appearing as Pennywise the clown (though It has a range of other creepy shapes) is wreaking havoc on the little town of Derry, Maine. Children disappear, are killed brutally, and nobody seems to know what’s behind the killings. Except for a group of child misfits who know that Derry is being haunted by a monster. Apart from running from bullies, trying to stay alive and simply being children, they decide to destroy It, no matter what.

Stephen King’s ability to make characters, especially children, come to life, is uncanny. I’ve said many times that my favorite aspect of his books is the way he talks about childhood friends. But it’s not just that romantic 50ies playing-out-in-the-sun, riding a bike, and secretly smoking kind of thing that I enjoy reading. Every single person in this story seems to leap off the page with a life of their own. Stuttering Bill, fat Ben Hanscom, Eddie with his aspirator, and beautiful Beverly Marsh, along with the rest of the Losers’ Club and the bullies and side-characters, seemed so utterly real that it made the events of the story all the more scary.

Which leads me to the horror bit. I’m not one to be scared by monsters but I do admit a dancing demon clown is not my favorite subject to dream about. What scared the living daylights out of me, though, was the very human horror. Patrick Hockstetter’s story managed to make me cry in desperation, shake my head in disbelief and run to get a hug from my significant other because I felt so scared. So yes, It may be ablet to look like a werewolf or a leper or a clown with razor teeth, but It acted through humans and it was those actions that made this a true horror novel for me.

I feel silly trying to judge Stephen King’s writing. It’s impeccable, it grabs you and keeps you hooked. The ending held a few surprises for me so if you’ve seen the movie, don’t be put off – the book is bigger, not only in pages, but in scope and backstory. And it’s well worth the read.

THE GOOD: Well written, fantastic characters and great creepy moments.
THE BAD: It’s a big commitment. If you don’t want to read 1500 pages in one go, do it like me and put it aside for a while.
THE VERDICT: Essential Stephen King, I also suspect a lot of connections to the Dark Tower series.