Requiem for the Author of Frankenstein, by Molly Dwyer
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
book source: Amazon
"When we are no more, it is our hopes and fears, in gentle gales or terrific whirlwinds, that occupy the emptiness."
On Ghosts, by Mary Shelley (qtd. in Dwyer 95)
Avid readers love searching for a great novel. It goes beyond picking up the latest best-seller stacked up in the display case of the mall or at the airport. For us it is a noble quest, never ending, and when we find that rare treasure we savor it, reread it, and are compelled to share it with other like-minded readers.
I've found one of those books.
There it was, sitting on one of the vast, virtual Amazon bookshelves. (Admit it, you've been known to get lost for hours browsing on Amazon.) It was the title that caught my eye: Requiem for the Author of Frankenstein, by Molly Dwyer. Hmmmmm. Like many of you, I read Mary Shelley's Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus in college, or rather I should say I studied Frankenstein, because there is a difference. Reading a book means enjoyment; studying a novel has a way of sucking the life right out of it.
Either way, my interest was piqued, so I ordered the book, winner of the 2008 Indie Book Award for Historical Fiction. I thought I was getting an historical fiction novel about author Mary Shelley. What I received was so much more.
Requiem, and you'll forgive me for shortening the title, manages to defy any one genre: part historical fiction, part Gothic romance with a healthy dose of magical realism. It is the story of author Mary Shelley and her extraordinary, unconventional (and that is putting it mildly) life as experienced by Anna, a modern day American scholar on a research trip to England. It is Anna who finds herself, via a rich tapestry of dreams within other dreams, actually becoming Shelley. Are dreams reality? Where is the line drawn? Is there a line?
The early 19th century was a time of literary upheaval: rebellion against the Enlightenment period, which emphasized reason above all else, arose in the form of Romanticism and placed great importance on emotional interpretation and creation of literature and art. The great authors and poets of the time were not singular entities. They were close friends and confidants; contemporaries who fed off of each other, sharing ideas, beliefs, and even (so it's been claimed) their spouses.
Ms. Dwyer cleverly immerses us in Mary Shelley's life and that of all of her contemporaries: her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and essayist Charles Lamb, to name a few. Their lives were filled with passion, betrayal and heart wrenching loss. They threw societal mores and values out the window and paid the ultimate price. The superb narrative in Requiem is so compelling that the reader receives a first-rate education in Romanticism without realizing it.
Ms. Dwyer demonstrates a command of the time period with accurate historic details and realistic dialogue, neither of which bogs down the narrative. The story immerses you an exciting period of literary history when boundaries were pushed and broken.
Highly recommended for your own personal reading enjoyment, I would also recommend Requiem as an extraordinary book club selection - there's enough fascinating material here to keep a book club occupied for months! If you are familiar with Mary Shelley and her intimate circle of Romantic Poets, this book will delight you. If you aren't, I'd venture to say that Requiem surpasses most college courses on the Romantics available today. Either way, this book is a treat and I'm looking forward to the next book in this series, The Appassionata.
Be sure to visit tomorrow when Ms. Dwyer herself will be here to answer a few questions and we'll be announcing a giveaway as well!
Title: Requiem for the Author of Frankenstein
Author: Molly Dwyer
Publisher: Lost Coast Press
Date: February 29, 2008