cover image Mary and the Birth of Frankenstein

Mary and the Birth of Frankenstein

Anne Eekhout, trans. from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson. HarperVia, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-325674-3

Eekhout in her English-language debut mines Mary Shelley’s biography for an atmospheric story of the strange weather and personal turbulence that inspired the author to write Frankenstein. While visiting Switzerland in 1816, Mary grieves her deceased child and frets over her young son, simmers with jealousy over her husband Percy’s other lovers, and routinely becomes irritated with her stepsister, Claire. She also takes in the otherworldly weather, the skies darkened by a volcano eruption in the Dutch East Indies. Mary first demurs when challenged by Lord Byron and his friend John Polidori to write a ghost story, but she reconsiders after remembering her intense childhood friendship with Isabella Baxter. In flashbacks, Eekhout shows how as teens in 1812 Dundee, Scotland, Mary and Isabella convince each other that monsters and witches are real. The girls, who develop a sexual relationship, are prone to mysterious blackouts, and Eekhout hints they’re being drugged by Isabella’s brother-in-law, David Booth. The plot seamlessly blends Mary’s development as a writer with her emotional turmoil, as Mary realizes what she must put to paper: “ugly, colorless, and vague because it thought it was unfit to be seen.” Eekhout pulls off a convincing gothic sensibility in this well-crafted portrait of Shelley’s interior life. (Oct.)