A hor­ror writer heads for Switzer­land in search of the kind of in­spi­ra­tion that sparked Shel­ley’s Franken­stein

The Guardian - Review - - Fiction - Suzi Feay

“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

To buy The Mon­sters We De­serve for £11.43 go to guardian­book­shop.com.

The Mon­sters We De­serve

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