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The Monster's Wife Kindle Edition
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Oona is a sick girl destined to an early demise (a heart defect). Although she’s physically weak, Oona is no slouch. She’s tough and determined. Her best friend, May, also tough, has lived a more active life. May has also done things for Oona the latter can’t appreciate until it’s too late. They live on one of the tiny Orkney Islands (Quoy), where some strange and macabre things have begun to happen involving fish, frogs, hens and a female hand, all of which coincide with the recent arrival on the island of one Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Or could it be collateral refuse from the Napoleonic wars (he wants to rule the seas, after all)?
In the meantime, May has been working for the good (or is he?) doctor; cleaning up, cooking, etc., for extra coin for her upcoming wedding to a possessive fisherman (Stuart) … and when Oona grows tired of her friend’s absence from the ritual hangout times together at the Smokehouse, Oona visits May at the big house (where Dr. Frankenstein has taken residence).
Oona helps her friend dump some crates belonging to the doctor out on the sea, during which Oona can’t help but remember her Granny’s frightening tale about what can happen to young women on the water … a twist on the mythical tale of a Selkie (half seal/half woman), Granny says a Finnman may catch her and turn Oona into a Selkie if she’s not careful. After some more dead stuff floats up on the beach (mostly likely from the crates May and Oona dumped), it scares the bejesus out of the fisherman and town folk. Trouble is on the horizon for the doctor, as all become ever more suspicious of what he’s doing in the big house and how it relates to their recent “plague.”
Oona is also very suspicious of Victor Frankenstein (what with all the strange things occurring kind of parallel to his arrival), but before long, Oona is also working for him and almost (not quite) side-by-side with her best friend. Oona retains a desire for knowledge not so unlike Viktor’s desire when he was a lad, but there’s someone/something on a table covered with a sheet Oona is sure is the owner of the female hand she found … who it might’ve been keeps her focused on remaining at the big house. Back in town, jealousy (Stuart’s) abounds when May spends a bit too much time with the doctor … meanwhile, Oona witnesses what the doctor can do with dead things, including one of her favorite pets, but she’s still nervous about his best intentions.
Oona collapses (her heart is weak) and the doctor nurses her back to good health, at least temporarily, but she’s seen another man watching her; at times can feel him watching her … who is he? What is he?
No spoilers here, but Horsley’s tale kind of picks up from the original, Mary Shelley, version of Frankenstein (a.k.a. The Modern Prometheus), except Horsley’s tale is about the monster’s wife. In Shelley’s original, Dr. Frankenstein heads to Orkney to create a bride for his monster … Horsley deals with the bride’s version of the story, and … no spoilers.
The descriptive narrative is as good as it gets. Mr. Updike has nothing on Ms. Horsley (above), and you’ll learn a lot about these tiny islands off the coast of Scotland, including their island nomenclature. I sure did. Biblical references also abound … Jonah and the Whale … Lazarus … Adam and Eve …
Croft = A small rented farm …
Byre = a cowshed
Kirk = a church
Bairn = a child
Bonxie = sea bird predator
Escritoire = secretary/desk
Céilidh = Gaelic social gathering with Gealic folk music
Mary Shelley gave us Frankenstein. Kate Horsley, with brilliant descriptive prose, presents his bride. The Monster’s Wife is a wonderfully scripted tale about love between things that go bump in the night. Kate Horsley’s brilliant historical novel is more than an adjunct to the Shelley classic; it is a powerful statement about strong women and their ability to hold our interest on the page as well as in life.
May has gone to work for the doctor and is more and more absent to her orphaned friend Oona. May has always been prone to the swooning interactions with an attentive man, and her awful fascination with Dr. Frankenstein is drawn to perfection. In her orbit, Oona comes to the big house and stays in fascination to the foreign knowledge on offer. The best part of this novel is her deeply ambivalent attraction to the uncanny experiments performed at the house even as she is filled with loathing for the disregard for the force of life. Frankenstein is revealed as the creature so taken with his own power and knowledge that he is oblivious to the wonders of mortal life.
"Pestilence has followed the foreign doctor to the island as Hell follows the pale rider." We know from the title that Frankenstein has embarked on resurrecting a new creature, but this novel moves so subtly that the mystery continues. He seems to have learned nothing from the disaster that he has so famously brought to be with his tinkering on the lines of the forbidden. Oblivious to the ruin around him, he sweeps the two girls in his wake.
Admittedly, I am a hopeless lover of the supernatural, but this novel surpasses the plot of the undead. As in all tales of the truly eerie outside our mortal lives, the story in fact reveals our common heritage with the "other". These characters take us a step further along that trip started by Mary Shelley on a dark night in the mountains. Not lost on the reader is the unstated current of science and its narrow margin of death and life in today's world.
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