Book Review: Frankenstein's Brain, by John Sutherland • Glam Adelaide

Book Review: Frankenstein’s Brain, by John Sutherland

Literary sleuth John Sutherland takes a quirky journey through the lesser-known byways of Mary Shelley’s novel, offering insights into key points of the book.

Definitely worth reading if you are a Frankenstein or Mary Shelley fan.

Frankenstein’s Brain is written in a spirit of fun rather than serious academic literature. Although John Sutherland is a modern English professor and lecturer at the University College London with a comprehensive background in literary analysis of the Victorian era, his regular column in the Guardian is reflected in the text as it allows for a wide readership; it is not just for the dedicated scholars.

As such, he starts the book by defining what type of literature ‘box’ within which Frankenstein fits. He ultimately concludes it is gothic, yet he also proposes the idea of it being the first science fiction novel ever written. It is clear from the foray into this first concept that the author admires and loves the book.

He then shares his insights into the sources of key points in the novel. For instance, how and why, after being sewn together, did Dr Frankenstein’s creature come to life? Upon analysis and by exploring the scientific beliefs around animation at the time, it is clear how Mary’s exposure to these scientific theories influenced her character and development of Frankenstein’s creature. The insights shared are complex and require more from the reader’s attention than just mild interest however, they are written in layman’s terms for those of us who have not learnt a lot of science.

There are many other puzzles and conundrums in the book that are treated similarly. John Sutherland essentially experiments with what Mary Shelley may have been imagining by drawing on knowledge of the external influences that existed at the time. Ultimately though, he doesn’t spoil the mystique of the book because these forays don’t fully explain the creative force of Shelley’s mind.

Altogether, Frankenstein’s Brain is an enjoyable and interesting book. Light and playful and in bite sized chapters that easily fit into a busy life, it invites you to ponder many fascinating questions. However, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you know nothing of Mary Shelley’s history. Sutherland does attempt to rectify this with a short history of Percy and Mary Shelley but this part is not detailed enough for the uninitiated.

Definitely worth reading if you are a Frankenstein or Mary Shelley fan.

Reviewed by Dara Lancaster with Rebecca Wu

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: January 2019
RRP: $24.99

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