Our critics, all suffering from extremely short attention spans, open random books in the library or bookstore and review the first line, paragraph and page (if it's really good). If we find we can't put it down, we might just review the whole first chapter. When we stumble upon a wonderful beginning, we read to the end to see if good writing really does go all the way.
Friday, 8 August 2014
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17—
TO Mrs. Saville, England
You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.
This novel opens with a series of letters before finally getting around to telling a story with a narrative and first person point of view. Beginning in a epistolary fashion and then switching gears to first person is awkward. As well, I'm not rejoicing that there is no conflict at the beginning of the novel. I want a disaster and the flourishing of evil forebodings. This begins like someone's boring email for which its only purpose is to establish character, which seems to preach the "know your hero before he does anything heroic" method of exposition -- except this story is not about the letter writer...so go figure.
The rest of the first paragraph:
I arrived here yesterday, and my first task is to assure my dear sister of my welfare and increasing confidence in the success of my undertaking.
There are five letters that open this classic novel and their propose, in part, is to establish how Dr. Frankenstein became an acquaintance of the letter writer and the story the doctor has to tell. The undertaking mentioned above is to go to the North Pole for the letter writer seems to be at a loose end and looking for meaning in his otherwise meaningless life.
Thankfully, the letters are not long and we soon learn that the letter writer finds a stranger on the ice who, as it happens, has a story to tell.
I am by birth a Genevese, and my family is one of the most distinguished of that republic.
So begins the stranger. But dang, is this going to to be a long-winded life history before we get to the good stuff, to the unnatural monster? Answer: Yes. Seriously, is it really necessary to begin a story with: I was born on....? Just tell us why this person is stuck on the ice in the Arctic!
First thing said:
"Here is our captain, and he will not allow you to perish on the open sea."
This is part of the series from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. Frankenstein comes in at the 92nd greatest novel of all time.
Most people pick this up because of the title and the fact that they think they already know all about the book's premise. There won't be too many people picking this up not knowing anything about it. But the question is, can one keep reading long enough until being hooked? Readers will have to if they wish to finish this book, unless they're reading it as part of a school program, in which case, they'll have to read it whether they want to or not. Perhaps that is the only way this novel will get read in the future as readers unquenchable thirst for simpler and dumber books increases. The film and graphic novel versions on the other hand will most certainly be celebrated for generations to come.