Monsters: The passion and loss that created Frankenstein

Monsters: The passion and loss that created Frankenstein

Monsters: The passion and loss that created Frankenstein
Sharon Dogar

Andersen Press Ltd

ISBN 9781783448029

1814: Mary Godwin, the sixteen-year-old daughter of radical socialist and feminist writers, runs away with a dangerously charming young poet - Percy Bysshe Shelley. From there, the two young lovers travel a Europe in the throes of revolutionary change, through high and low society, tragedy and passion, where they will be drawn into the orbit of the mad and bad Lord Byron. But Mary and Percy are not alone: they bring Jane, Mary's young step-sister. And she knows the biggest secrets of them all . . . Told from Mary and Jane's perspectives, Monsters is a novel about radical ideas, rule-breaking love, dangerous Romantics, and the creation of the greatest Gothic novel of them all: Frankenstein

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Reviews

Monsters: The passion and loss that created Frankenstein5/5

Monsters: The passion and loss that created Frankenstein

Sharon Dogar

Review

Don't be fooled by the title, the Monster in this story isn't the one brought to life by Dr Frankenstein in the classic Gothic story but the characters involved in its creation. For this is the outstanding and completely compelling story of Mary Godwin, author of the original tale, whose own life is every bit as tragic and dramatic as that of the legendary monster she creates. Dogar cleverly weaves a tangled web of intrigue, emotions and relationships which inextricably pulls in the reader while at the same time showing brilliantly how real life informed art.

The lives of these literary celebrities unfold like the reality TV show of its time, scandalising those in London society who look on in outraged judgement, gossiping shamelessly, and completely addicted to seeing what Mary and those in her close circle do next. We, as readers, share their fascination with these characters as their drama unfolds on the page: 16-year-old Mary, headstrong and idealistic, passionate and vocal about defying social convention and following her dreams; her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, staunch feminist and muse for for our heroine even after her own early death; her father, the stubborn and pompous social reformer, William Godwin; her half-sister, Claire, competing for romantic attention from Percy Bysshe Shelley as they elope to pursue their vision of free love; Shelley himself, the charming (married) Romantic hero poet, idealistic and reckless, but often thinking only of himself; the infamous Lord Byron, fashionable and flamboyant, womanising villain. There are abandoned wives, passionate affairs, infant death and suicide as our cast of characters travel from London to Paris and through Switzerland in pursuit of their ideals. Theirs is a story of love, passion and heartbreak, abject poverty and prejudice, idealism and radicalism, atheism, feminism and freedom.

he way in which Dogar brings the past to life and reimagines Mary Shelley's life is outstanding. Rigorous historical research and exceptionally skilled writing captures the flavour of the era while creating a page-turning story, highly readable to a modern audience. Despite the initially intimidating length, short diary-style entries keep the pages turning at speed. Dogar treats her very human characters fairly, portraying Mary Shelley as an inspiring feminist heroine, fighting for her rights, passionately articulating beliefs which are just as relevant today. Indeed the condemnation and shaming she faces is only too similar to that which many women still experience. Dogar deftly avoids any hint of melodrama or stereotyping. As readers, we find ourselves attracted, despite ourselves, to the dark side of the very characters we long to despise.

This is the book English teachers have long dreamed of - perfect to use with GCSE/A level classes to increase engagement and understanding of the set text or to stretch more able readers and tempt them into trying the Frankenstein story for themselves. Fans of historical fiction will love it too. It is a masterpiece and deserves to hoover up awards.

A number of contemporary YA writers have put a new spin on the Frankenstein myth to create their own outstanding fictions: Paula Rawsthorne examines medical ethics, identity and the nature of love in the thought-provoking novel Shell while Chris Priestley creates a creepy gothic journey of friendship and betrayal in Mister Creecher. Other classic fictions are given a modern spin in Becoming Jo by Sophie McKenzie (a reimagining of Little Women) and A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond (a retelling of the myth of Orpheus). Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman sets the Othello story in deep space while And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness tells the story of Moby Dick from the perspective of the whale.

Dogar's previous work, Annexed, takes the reader into the world of Anne Frank through Peter's diary.

464 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Eileen Armstrong, school librarian

Reviewed by: Eileen Armstrong


Monsters: The passion and loss that created Frankenstein5/5

Monsters: The passion and loss that created Frankenstein

Sharon Dogar

Review

This ambitious third person narrative novel, written in the present tense, delves into the tragic life of Mary Shelley taking care to give voices to all the men [Godwin, Lord Byron, Hogg, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Polidori] and women who were players in this melodrama. The stories of Mary's mother Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary, her half-sister Fanny Imlay, her step sister and rival Claire Clairmont, her lover's wife Harriet Shelley and her Scottish friend Izy are told using a series of diary entries, letters, locations and recollections resembling the literary devices of Frankenstein.

Dogar expertly explores the motivations of each character using her imagination and her instincts as a psychotherapist to enhance the dramatic tale gleaned from her research of the Shelley Archives in Oxford.

The structure of Monsters distances the reader at first until they acclimatise themselves to the novel's interconnecting web of catastrophic events that led to the creation of a literary masterpiece. Beginning in 1812 when the 14-year-old Mary is exiled to Scotland because of her father William Godwin's mounting debts and ending in 1818 when Frankenstein is published, Monsters is an emotional rollercoaster of toxic relationships and traumatic episodes driven by characters who behave monstrously.

Dogar paints a portrait of predatory, selfish and exploitative men whose behaviour is at odds with their free-thinking philosophy [William Godwin] and the sensitivity and beauty of their romantic poetry [Byron and Shelley]. Mary, plagued by guilt over her mother's death and bullied by her stepmother, is influenced by the writings of her parents and wants to passionately love and be intellectually stimulated without being judged. She is an impressionable 16-year-old when she elopes with the charismatic married Shelley [whom she is asked to entertain with conversation by her father, who wants financial gain] and who has been given the opportunity to charm, flatter, groom, seduce and emotionally blackmail her by using the memory of her dead mother. The wild, impetuous Claire wants release from a stultifying existence where she feels trapped by expectations. Fanny desires to be treated as Mary's equal and the pregnant Harriet longs for Shelley not to abandon her.

Sympathy in this novel lies with the women who are manipulated, abandoned, dictated to and ruthlessly persecuted by a voyeuristic and hypocritical society dominated by patriarchal sensibilities. Children are collateral damage of imprudent affairs. It reflects Wollstonecraft's observation in A Vindication of the Rights of Women that 'A great proportion of the misery that wanders, in hideous forms, around the world, is allowed to rise from the negligence of parents.'

Frankenstein, which celebrated its bicentenary last year, was not merely a response to a bet on a storm-tossed night in Lake Geneva but a narrative born from Mary's intense pain and loss. She described her novel as 'my hideous progeny' and at its heart is the devastation caused by desertion.

Disgrace, penury, prejudice and suffering are recurring patterns in the girls' lives as Mary desperately struggles to cope with Percy's infidelities and tries to reconnect with her father. Reckless decisions and implacability leave a trail of destruction with Mary, Claire, Fanny and Harriet all caught in the crossfire. In later life Claire Clairmont denounced the concept of 'free love', describing Shelley and Byron as 'monsters of lying meanness, cruelty and treachery.'

Monsters is an eventful read that explores the radical thinking and polyamorous lifestyle of Byron's set while providing an insight into the complex psyche of the key characters. Young girls become casualties of love and are a cautionary tale to teens today. Dogar speculates what may have been contained in the missing pages of Mary's diary and attempts to understand Percy's inner demons that compel him, [to borrow from Oscar Wilde], 'to kill the thing he loves'. Such themes will fascinate students studying the context of Mary Shelley's iconic gothic novel.

464 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Tanja Jennings, school librarian

Reviewed by: Tanja Jennings