Friday, February 15, 2013

Dr. Frankenstein's Daughters by Suzanne Weyn

Novels based on Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein seem to abound these days. While Kenneth Oppel's This Dark Endeavour and Such Wicked Intent explore Victor Frankenstein's life BEFORE he creates his monster, in Dr. Frankenstein's Daughters, Suzanne Weyn crafts a good story about his fictional daughters AFTER their mad father's death.

Giselle and Ingrid Frankenstein are the twin daughters of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the mad scientist. The novel opens with excerpts from Victor Frankenstein's diary, in which he acknowledges the birth of his twin daughters, but dares not to claim them after the death of their mother. Victor is being pursued by his monster-creation, who demands that Frankenstein make him a mate. Frankenstein agrees but in the end, decides to destroy the creature.

Seventeen years later, twins Giselle and Ingrid arrive at Castle Frankenstein, located on Gairsay Island in the Orkneys. They are accompanied by their uncle, Baron Ernest Frankenstein, who has revealed to them that they have inherited both the castle and a large amount of money from their father. Giselle and Ingrid have learned that their father was considered to be raving mad, and although considered lost in the Arctic wastelands, his frozen body has only recently been located and returned to Germany.

The two young women are very different; Ingrid is studious and interested in her father's old scientific journals which she finds in one of the rooms in the castle, while Giselle, who is very beautiful, is of delicate health and suffers from sleepwalking. Giselle is deeply afraid of the dark. Giselle is also recovering from a case of unrequited love after having been rejected by a young man named Johann.

Their story is told in first person narration, through alternating entries in their diaries, beginning in May through to December of 1815. These entries suggest that the madness that plagued Victor Frankenstein, did not die with him! Ingrid is revealed to be inquisitive and intelligent and willing to take risks for the sake of knowledge, while Giselle appears fragile both physically and mentally. Gradually, we come to question Giselle's perspective, as people begin to disappear. Weyn uses the two perspectives to develop two different story lines for each of the Frankenstein twins which ultimately converge unexpectedly.

Once in the castle, Giselle decides that she will oversee its restoration, hoping to create a place where she can hold parties and entertain the social elite of the day. Their new housekeeper, Mrs. Flett, suggests that they hire the young men of Gairsay to renovate the castle, which Giselle and Ingrid agree to. Although Giselle's health appears to improve, she continues to have episodes of sleepwalking and night terrors. She is inexplicably afraid of the dark.  Giselle and her sister take a trip to Edinburgh, where she meets up with Johann, the young man who dismissed her love for him only months ago, but who now seems deeply interested in Giselle. A planned meeting turns disastrous, and Giselle wants only to return to Castle Frankenstein. But even the journey home, results in another bit of tragedy for Giselle.

Ingrid meanwhile, continues to be fascinated by her father's old notebooks, spending much time reading them. She also finds herself drawn to the sullen, wounded naval officer, Walter Hammersmith, who resides in the cottage adjacent to Castle Frankenstein. Ingrid discovers her father's abandoned laboratory, deep beneath Castle Frankenstein, which leads her further into studying his research on animating dead flesh. While in Edinburgh with her sister, Ingrid attends medical lectures disguised as a man, to learn more about the human body. She becomes convinced that her father's research holds the secret to healing, Walter, with whom she has fallen deeply in love, has lost a limb and Ingrid is determined to make him whole again using the knowledge she has gained from her father's research. She manages (somewhat unbelievably) to take him to the laboratory beneath Castle Frankenstein, where she attempts an experimental treatment to try to heal him.

But when people begin disappearing both in Edinburgh and on Gairsay, Inspector Cairo is sent over to the island to investigate. His investigation reveals that both murder and insanity are not far behind the Frankenstein family!

I was pleasantly surprised at how well constructed this story was and how it held my interest. Using the two narratives advanced the story lines quickly and from different points of view. It gradually becomes evident that Giselle's accounts are not reliable and that Ingrid nor her uncle suspect anything. Ingrid's fascination with creating new life and her experimentation with Walter suggest she has inherited her father's obsession. There is a hint of what has caused Giselle's madness near the end and a suggestion that there might be another book?

The novel is filled with plenty of references to the original work of Mary Shelly, Frankenstein. It would be helpful to have read Frankenstein first, but not really necessary as Weyn provides the backstory of Victor Frankenstein and his Monster at the beginning of the novel. The author note at the back of the book explains which elements of the novel are true to the Frankenstein story and which are not. Dr. Frankenstein's Daughter's is a quick, high interest read for younger teens!

Book Details:
Dr. Frankenstein's Daughters by Suzanne Weyn
New York: Scholastic Press 2012
250 pp.

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