To a tiny island in the Scottish Orkneys, peopled by a devout community of twenty, comes Victor Frankenstein, driven there by a Devil’s bargain: to make a wife for the Creature who is stalking him across Europe.
In this darkly-wrought answer to Frankenstein, we hear the untold tale of the monster’s wife through the perspective of the doctor’s housemaid. Oona works below stairs with her best friend May, washing the doctor’s linens and keeping the fires lit at the Big House. An orphan whose only legacy is the illness that killed her mother, Oona knows she is doomed. But she is also thirsty for knowledge, determined to know life fully before it slips away.
As tensions heighten between Victor and the islanders, Oona becomes the doctor’s trusted accomplice, aiding in secret experiments and seeing horrors she sometimes wishes to forget. When May disappears, Oona must face up to growing suspicions about the enigmatic employer to whom she has grown close – but the truth is darker than anything she could imagine.
What I Thought:
I’ve long been a fan of books such as The Monster’s Wife, those that take a celebrated work and further the story, either by retelling from the perspective of another character, or provide a sequel of sorts (Pride & Prejudice sequels in particular), so I was eager to pick up this one by Kate Horsley.
Having read Frankenstein, I was already a little familiar with what had gone before this book, but to be honest, there is enough reference to the original to be able to read this on its own (but I would always recommend reading Frankenstein).
From the first few pages though, this book is uncomfortable – you know that Victor Frankenstein has made a monster, and now he’s aiming to make another, but this time a female. When local girls May and Oona become involved in Victor’s life, it’s difficult to read about them knowing what will likely happen to them.
Oona is a fantastic character. A broad-thinking and determined woman in a community that does not welcome those qualities is bound to stand out, but with the intimation that her mother had a similar character, Oona is the definite misfit. Not content with settling down with a local boy and not seeing any more of the world sees her begin working with Victor, feeding her love of learning but she must face up to what his experiments entail, and her ultimate fate is gripping.
It’s difficult to follow such a classic work, with new characters, and keep the spirit of the original, but Kate Horsley does this well in The Monster’s Wife. The detailed but gloomy descriptions of the Orkney landscape, and the battering by a relentless sea add a restless feeling to the book, which mirrors Oona’s own restless spirit, and give a real sense of claustrophobia. Some of the horrors of Victor’s mansion are described vividly and without holding anything back.
This book is a worthy successor to the original book, and gives a brilliant new dimension to Mary Shelley’s earlier work.
Note: I was sent this book by the publisher, Barbican Press, for review purposes, but all opinions are, as ever, my own.