To many readers, who have perhaps known Frankenstein only at second hand, the original may well come as a surprise. When Mary Shelley began it, she was only 18, though she was already Shelley's mistress and Byron's friend. In her preface she explains how she and Shelley spent part of a wet summer with Byron in Switzerland, amusing themselves by reading and writing ghost stories. Her contribution was Frankenstein, a story about a student of natural philosophy who learns the secret of imparting life to a creature constructed from bones he has collected in charnel-houses. The story is not a study of the macabre, as such, but rather a study of how man uses his power, through science, to manipulate and pervert his own destiny, and this makes it a profoundly disturbing book.
Frankenstein, loved by many decades of readers and praised by such eminent literary critics as Harold Bloom, seems hardly to need a recommendation. If you haven't read it recently, though, you may not remember the sweeping force of the prose, the grotesque, surreal imagery, and the multilayered doppelgänger themes of Mary Shelley's masterpiece. As fantasy writer Jane Yolen writes of this (the reviewer's favorite) edition, "The strong black and whites of the main text [illustrations] are dark and brooding, with unremitting shadows and stark contrasts. But the central conversation with the monster--who owes nothing to the overused movie image … but is rather the novel's charnel-house composite--is where [Barry] Moser's illustrations show their greatest power ... The viewer can all but smell the powerful stench of the monster's breath as its words spill out across the page. Strong book-making for one of the world's strongest and most remarkable books." Includes an illuminating afterword by Joyce Carol Oates.