Here is the second of my two reviews for August 2009's Historical Novels Review.
A Monster's Notes, Laurie Sheck
What would it mean if Mary Shelly’s monster had been real? What implications would there be for her story, what clues about her story could we find in the people she lived with and loved? That is the premise of this ambitious book.
Sheck, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, poses answers to these questions in a series of stories and flashbacks, all connected by the monster who was created by an unknown hand and interacted with Mary when she was a child, sitting together, reading at her mother’s graveside. The stories are told through the monster’s own ponderings, letters written by Mary Shelley, her sister Claire, and Clerval, who in this universe was an intimate of the monster’s maker, as well as a character in Mary’s book.
As is to be expected, the book is well written – more of a free-form 540-page poem than a novel. There is little plot, and it is difficult to connect with the characters and their plights – even the monster.
It is a meditation on mind, what it means to think, what it means to be a person, what it means to be an individual – what it means to dream, think, see, to know someone, to know yourself. It’s heady, ambitious stuff, quite thought-provoking, though not at all an easy read.