A horror writer heads for Switzerland in search of the kind of inspiration that sparked Shelley’s Frankenstein
“I announced that I had thought of a story,” wrote Mary Shelley, describing the birth of her most famous literary creation. “What would terrify me would terrify others,” she intuited, waking after a hideous dream, but Frankenstein did more than scare its readers. Two hundred years after its publication in January 1818 it continues to fascinate, haunt and inspire.
Not that the narrator of The Monsters We Deserve – unnamed, but we’re told he shares initials with Mary Shelley as well as with his own progenitor – thinks that it’s a masterpiece. The author of a global horror bestseller, he has retreated to a remote chalet in Switzerland, not far from the novel’s setting, to seek fresh inspiration. He spends some time outlining Frankenstein’s failings, an excellent example of writer’s rancour against a more successful rival.
The Monsters We Deserve fits neatly into the familiar category of a narrator writing a novel about not being able to write a novel. Suffering from writer’s block, he is attracted as much to the tale of Frankenstein’s creation as to its actual text: the ghost storytelling competition in a candlelit Geneva villa in 1816, where a teenage girl trounced Europe’s biggest literary celebrity and his genius friend – take that, Byron and Shelley! No such creative breakthrough occurs for him until the weather worsens, and a series of ghostly visitors pass through his doors …
The narrator nurses a secret about his own single literary success. This turns out to be rather a feeble one, but it’s responsible for his deep feelings of guilt. The musings that form the novel are addressed to his frustrated publisher: “I still have nothing for you, nothing at all.” The natural world presses in on his chalet. The creeping paralysis of nightmare is well evoked, as he begins to see, or imagine, occult signs.
This slender, beautifully written novel is probably best read in one atmospheric sitting. Mary Shelley – for she is one of the visitants – complains that her book has been continually misread. Like Frankenstein , The Monsters We Deserve is a dark fable about the responsibilities of creation. In the end, if a monster is to have any life at all, it must be set loose. by Marcus Sedgwick, Zephyr, £12.99
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The Monsters We Deserve