Book Review – Following Frankenstein by Catherine Bruton

books, reviews

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It won’t have escaped your attention that I should have posted this yesterday. The truth is that I hadn’t finished the book. In fact, I was nowhere near finishing it. It’s been a tough week and I’ve just not been able to concentrate on reading. So, even though this book was a really quick read intended for children, it took me ages to finish it. Although, was that just because I wasn’t in the mood or was it also down to the book?

I’ve read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley more than any other book. Doing a literature degree with a significant focus on Romantic literature meant that I studied the book every single year of my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. I love it. I don’t think I could ever get sick of the story of a scientist trying to play God and realising how out of his depth he really is. I’ve read it so many times that I had to take a break from it. That hasn’t stopped me from picking up books that were inspired by Shelley’s novel. Not all of them work, but some are well worth a read.

Catherine Bruton’s middle-grade novel doesn’t rewrite the original story but asks what happened next. Maggie Walton is the daughter of Robert Walton, the explorer who listens to Victor Frankenstein’s story in Mary Shelley’s book. Since meeting the famed scientist, Walton has become obsessed with finding the monster and it has cost him his family. When her father announces that he is chasing the monster once more, Maggie stows away on the boat. What will she find on her journey and will she be able to get her father back?

It’s clear that Catherine Bruton is a fan of Frankenstein and plenty of other classic tales. Following Frankenstein is littered with references and in-jokes for fans. Among the literature mentioned are Moby Dick and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It also takes us from London to the Arctic and then to New York. We also find ourselves in a circus freak show and on the Underground Railroad. It’s safe to say that there’s a lot going on here. Perhaps too much. The main story just gets lost and I found myself getting bored. We never got to grips with anything that Bruton introduces because she moves on so quickly.

The pacing of this book is so strange. It starts off really slowly but then races through to the end. If I’d read this as a child, I wouldn’t have finished it. The opening just wouldn’t have grabbed my attention and I wouldn’t have wasted my time. Even as an adult I had to push myself to finish it. This is so stuffed with historical, literary and even pop culture references that the main story becomes really flimsy. There’s a lack of characterisation here. I just didn’t really care about the characters that much. Considering the original novel did such a good job of making the unlovable seem so loveable, it’s a huge shame.

However, I guess there is some fun here. Maggie has a cute mouse sidekick and there are some interesting characters. Maybe a younger reader would prefer this frenetic pace? Certainly, the narrative keeps moving forward in a way that could suggest excitement. I just don’t think this reads like a children’s book. It’s stuffed so full of references that younger readers won’t get, which leaves them with very little to enjoy. It’s not the kind of book I would have enjoyed at that age. It was difficult enough now.

For me, this was messy and inconsistent. The writing was a weird mix of anarchic and modern. It tried to blend too many different styles together but never quite pulls it off. To me, it didn’t feel like a coherent story but a long list of things that Catherine Bruton likes or is interested in. All of her passions just shoehorned together on the flimsiest of premises. It’s fair enough to take inspiration from other sources but that doesn’t mean you don’t need your own idea as well. This book uses a Frankestein approach to novel writing: just stitch together other people’s ideas to create some sort of ungodly literary creation. It was disappointing.

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