I often think of characters in terms of Venn diagrams. (Okay, I think of people in these terms a lot of the time. What do you expect? I’m a librarian.) Character’s circles collide with each other as they get caught up in each other’s stories. Authors let us zoom in on these circles and this shapes our perspectives on what’s happening in the novel or short story or whatever we’re reading. This image of a Venn diagram kept popping into my head as I read Kate Horsley’s The Monster’s Wife. In this book, Oona Scollay’s circle is pulled into a story already in progress when a Herr Doktor Frankenstein arrives on the island of Hoy, in the Orkneys.
Oona Scollay and her best friend, May, toil with the rest of the members of their small archipelago of villages. The men fish and herd livestock. The women tend the house and hearth. Nothing changes, until a foreign doctor sets up shop in the laird’s abandoned manor house. May is hired as maid for Doktor Frankenstein. As the days pass, May grows more secretive and distant from Oona. One night, May asks Oona to help her get rid of something foul smelling in their village’s firth. The next morning, dead frogs wash up on shore and the local fish are dying. Then Oona’s chickens are killed. A neighbor’s pigs are killed. When Oona pushes her way into the manor house, the Doktor reveals that he can galvanize frogs back to life. He’s an unsettling man. He mumbles to himself and only some of it makes sense to Oona and May. (If you’ve read Frankenstein, however, you know exactly what’s going on.) Frankenstein hires Oona once he knows that she can read—though it seems he also hires her because he thinks she has a sympathetic ear.
Horsley began her tale with an ominous tone, but she quickly builds The Monster’s Wife into a full blown horror story. May disappears. Her fiance threatens Oona. The Doktor is beaten to within an inch of his life. And all through this, Oona keeps catching sight of a scarred man with piercing, angry blue eyes. Horsley eventually reveals the devil’s bargain that the Doktor had to make to save his family back in Switzerland. Unfortunately, May and Oona are trapped in the crosshairs of that deadly deal.
I love retellings of classic stories (as long as they can live up to the quality of the original.) I adored Daniel Levine’s Hyde, which told the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the “alleged” monster’s perspective. The Monster’s Wife is an epilogue to Frankenstein. Fortunately, Horsley more than lives up to the original. In fact, I liked this book a lot more than Frankenstein because there’s so much more action and suspense and the philosophizing doesn’t grind the narrative to a screeching halt.
To sum up, read the plot summary of Frankenstein on Wikipedia, then go read The Monster’s Wife.
I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 8 August 2014.