Book Review: Frankenstein

By Alan Perrott

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Steampunk: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; ill. by Zdenko Basic and Manuel Sumberac
Running Press $34.99

Book cover of Steampunk: Frankenstein. Photo / Supplied
Book cover of Steampunk: Frankenstein. Photo / Supplied

Goggles, goggles and more goggles ... when what I really wanted was earplugs. Which isn't to say the idea here lacks merit - who doesn't like a bit of steampunked goth in their classics every now and then? - but heavens, isn't Frankenstein a whining little bugger?

I guess the crux of the thing is that everything I know about the shiftless doctor and his creation came via Boris Karloff and Gene Wilder. So, until now my mental images featured bolted-on heads, Tesla coils, pitchforks, and "IT'S ALIVE," not some nonce whittering on endlessly about how it's not his fault as his nearest and dearest are throttled or - quite possibly - fretted into early graves.

I mean, he makes this thing, right? Then he decides it might not be his best work and goes to bed, hoping it'll be all right in the morning.

So, if you're not cheering for the monster by the end then I don't think you've been paying any attention. And is anyone else queasy about Frankenstein snr spending years trying to manipulate a sexual relationship between his son and adopted daughter?

Anyway, and despite having a lapsed interest in steampunk (all the johnny-come-nerdlies did my head in), I was keen to see if this reanimation succeeded. The idea is to set classic works in an askew, clock and steam-powered reality by adding illustrations replicating the collectable cards of the Victorian era. This is the second go; Edgar Allan Poe's already had a turn and H.G. Wells is waiting in the wings.

It works better than you might think. The prose remains as florid as ever but with added fly wheels, smoke stacks and enough goggles to border on satire, it is nicely reimagined.

It certainly added an enjoyable frisson to lines like: "I collected bones from charnel-houses and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame." Wonderful stuff.

As an added bonus, the illustrators, Croatian pair Zdenko Basic and Manuel Sumberac, have gone with the unabridged version of the third edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, so it also features her own introduction explaining how the book came to be written.

Alan Perrott is a Canvas feature writer.

- NZ Herald

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