the guardian Fri 17 April 2009
The original Frankenstein's monster, brought to life at the Villa Diodati in the imagination of Mary Shelley, was already a Romantic archetype. Peter Ackroyd has turned him into a checklist of every troubled soul of 19th-century gothic fiction. His young man from Geneva, befriended by Percy Bysshe Shelley, is an egocentric, a scientist driven beyond morality, and a divided personality haunted by his shadow. Moving through a fevered period London of revolutionaries and resurrectionists, a tubercular would-be surgeon is pulled from the Thames and turns out to be the perfect lab specimen. Ackroyd's trade is historical literary reimaginings, but rather than taking a single period or an individual character here he hoovers up Shelley, Bram Stoker and Robert Louis Stevenson - and the effect is overwhelming. With a lighter touch and fewer nods in every gothic direction, this could have been a humorous dissection of the genre, but unfortunately nothing can galvanise its deadweight mix of historical and literary knowledge.