Reviewed by Christy H.
The pull-quote on the cover of my edition of this book states that it “rattles enjoyably through a lurid and restless landscape.” I completely agree – mainly because the verb “rattles” conjures up visions of a rickety old roller coaster whose course you cannot predict. Montillo swings from the real-life “mad scientists” who spent their evenings grave robbing (or hiring someone to do it for them) to Mary’s scandalous love affair with Percy Shelley to even an erupting volcano in 1815! Back and forth, crisscrossing along the way, it’s somewhat difficult to get your bearings. So many names were thrown at me I often wondered if I should start taking notes just to keep them straight.
While I can’t say anything specifically needed to be edited out (I enjoyed every tidbit I read), it certainly would’ve benefited for some kind of organization. Some parts were needlessly messy and confusing. On more than one occasion Montillo skipped over the death of one of Mary’s children only to bring it up later in the book in regards to her depression. Or possibly it was the same child’s death she was referring to a few times, it isn’t clear. I still don’t know how many children Mary had in all. (One survived into adulthood.)
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this book. It’s very enjoyable for anyone who takes an interest in science, literature, horror, history, science fiction, or just celebrating talented women and their work – pretty much something for everyone. It begins by alternating between Mary Shelley’s childhood and the popular science experiments of the time. (Hint: they involved cadavers and electricity.) From there, it tumbles through the history of these experiments and the history of Mary - taking detours for mini biographies on Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and principal others. While convoluted at times, it is a fun little read, especially for fans of Frankenstein. Speaking of which, that aforementioned volcano in 1815 caused intense weather anomalies in 1816 - including the severe thunderstorm that kept Mary, Shelly, Byron and company holed up in a house on a lake with nothing much to do except tell ghost stories. Mary’s story, legend tells, eventually became the classic novel Frankenstein.