Lesley McDowell - Unfashioned Creatures
A historical/psychological novel with links to the Victorian gothic tradition of Mary Shelley
In 1823, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a popular bestseller – but her (real-life) childhood friend Isabella Baxter Booth feels she’s facing an actual monster: her violent husband. Mary wrote about a mysterious encounter between them in London; this novel imagines what happens after a distraught Isabella tries and fails to enlist her help. Meanwhile, young Scottish doctor Alexander has already caused havoc abroad with his single-minded determination to find the perfect research subject to make his name in the new field of psychiatry. When Alexander and Isabella’s paths cross in Broughty Ferry, the doctor becomes embroiled in more than a case study as he tries to establish the truth about Isabella’s marriage and about the causes of madness itself.
Lesley McDowell writes in dense, lyrical prose that insists upon slow reading, not least because neither of her narrators can be entirely trusted. At times Alexander’s selfishness is a little overdone, though he’s enjoyably deluded throughout. While the Mary Shelley connection is only marginal to the story, it’s a neat nod to the tale’s roots in the Victorian gothic tradition.