November 30, 2006

Dark Obsession

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

How much do we really know about the life of Mary Shelley? Well, most people know that she wrote the classic tale of horror, Frankenstein. From there, our cinematic imagination intrudes, continuing instead onto that most dark and ghastly fiction about mad scientists and rising, pasty-pale half-men with bolts sticking out of their badly stitched foreheads. But movies aside, Mary Shelley was a person... a sort of sad, delusional person. She was seduced and forgotten, dragged about as the arm candy of an ambitious dreamer, and never fully emerges as anybody independent of her famous spouse until now.

AngelMonster takes us into the life of Mary Godwin, a dreamy young girl with a head full of romance in the face of a stern stepmother who wants her to be demure and chaste, and an indulgent father, who simply wants peace in his household. When Mary meets Percy, the silvertongued poet -- and liar -- he appears to her like the brightest star on the horizon. She imagines him as more than human, more than perfect, more than a man. An angel, perhaps, he will make all of her dreams of passion and life burst into true life and sweep away the mundane existence of the podgy, boring town she lives in. But as she runs away with him -- dragging her hapless and flirtatious stepsister along with her for security -- she learns that he is both more than and less than she thought. He seems to need her, for she is his Muse. He seems to love her, but he has a wife -- and she is pregnant, and already has another young child. She also was seduced from her parents at the same age Mary was. To Mary, this is hardly significant, though her parents are enraged and grieved, and Mary's social standing is ruined. Mary stubbornly clings to the hope that Percy's wife will die, or divorce him, and that she will be his one and only -- because what else can she wish for? She is ruined. Meanwhile, bad fortune dogs them at every turn; Percy social climbs, then bed climbs and finds inspiration and a muse in another house, and Mary is left to hang on tightly to the dream that she had. But darker dreams are filling her mind. What happened to the life she had dreamed of with her angel? And why can she now only see monsters everywhere she looks?

While not a 'fun' novel, this is a riveting account of life in the early 1800's, with glimpses of the outside-the-textbook views of Percy Shelley and Lord Byron and other poets of the time. This is the type of book that can help bring English classes to life!

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