Book Review – Our Hideous Progeny by C.E. McGill

books, reviews

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It’s been a while since I requested anything from Netgalley because I just don’t need the hassle. I just never get around to reading them and it always makes me feel guilty. I have too many of my own books that I would rather read, so I might as well get them done first. Sometimes, I find a book that I just can’t resist requesting. This was one of those books. It just sounded like my thing. As always, it’s been sitting in my account for ages waiting for me to remember it. I had actually forgotten about it until I checked my Kindle before going away. Then I felt so bad about it that I started it immediately. It wasn’t the holiday reading I was expecting but at least it ease my conscience a bit. Was it any good though?

 One of the great things about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is it is succinct and to the point. It’s so confident in its narrative and message that it doesn’t try and beat you over the head with it. CE McGill’s attempt to give the classic a feminist twist is a wonderful idea and I love the LGBTQ+ addition. It could have been great but Our Hideous Progeny isn’t quite what I hoped for. For one thing, it’s long. I know 400 pages isn’t actually long in the grand scheme of things but it’s longer than it should be. Longer than the premise needs certainly. 

There are a lot of plot threads and I don’t think all of them were strictly necessary. The story revolves around Victor Frankenstein’s great-niece, Mary. Mary shares her great-uncle’s passion for science and is a keen palaeontologist. She and her husband scrape a living out of his academic writing and her accompanying illustrations. At least until Mary comes across Captain Walton’s account of Frankenstein’s life. She begins to wonder about the secret that brought life to his creation. It seems like a good way to secure their fortune and their position in the scientific community. Can the pair continue Victor’s work and create a new creature? 

There were plenty of themes in this book that I found really interesting. The aspect of the story based around women in the scientific world was great but could have been explored more. Especially the contest between Mary and her husband. When they have their great idea, it is clear that Mary won’t get any recognition but her husband will be celebrated. I just wish there had been more time given over to this plot strand. We briefly meet other women in these circles but never really delve deeper into their experiences. Likewise, I think the LGBTQ+ elements were underdeveloped. It just seemed like something of an afterthought. There was little development in the queer aspect of the novel and I was kind of disappointed. Especially as it was meant to be such a big deal. 

On paper, this sounded like a really good book and one that I was excited to read. In the end, I was bored. It was a massive struggle to finish it because the pacing was so slow. It’s not even as if there was any great development slowing it down. It was just unnecessarily detailed. There was so much repetition and the story was just dragged out for as long as possible. In all honesty, I don’t know what the Frankenstein link actually did here other than allow the book to trade off its name. I don’t think McGill did much with the story except to repeat it in excruciating detail. This element just made the narrative unnecessarily slow. I think it would have been stronger if Mary had just been an ordinary palaeontologist trying to make a name for herself. At least then we could have skipped the incredibly long and tedious “chase” sequence towards the end of the book. 

Overall, this book just didn’t work for me. I never felt engaged with the characters or the concept. It was all talk but, ultimately, I don’t think it really delivered on its promises. Strictly speaking, it was a feminist and queer retelling of Mary Shelley’s book. However, neither of those aspects felt particularly developed. They were barely explored. As for character development? I didn’t feel as though I knew Mary any better at the end than I did at the beginning. As a lover of Shelley’s original novel, reading this didn’t give me a new perspective on the classic. It just made me wish I was reading that again. 

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