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Father of Frankenstein

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This novel--the basis for the critically acclaimed 1998 film Gods and Monsters--re-creates the last days of film director James Whale, who was found dead in his swimming pool, an apparent suicide, in 1957. Bram offers sharp insights into the darkly comic sensibility that infuses Whale's two most famous films, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, as memories of an impoverished English childhood, the trenches of World War I, and Hollywood studios compete for space in a mind whose defenses have been weakened by a stroke. Written in the fluid present tense of a cinematic treatment, Father of Frankenstein is a powerful evocation of an era before Hollywood celebrities could proclaim anything but domestic heterosexuality to the outside world.

276 pages, Paperback

First published April 1, 1995

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About the author

Christopher Bram

29 books114 followers
Bram grew up in Kempsville, Virginia. After graduating from the College of William and Mary in 1974 (B.A. in English), he moved to New York City four years later. There, he met his lifelong partner, documentary filmmaker Draper Shreeve.

Bram's novel Father of Frankenstein, about film director James Whale, was made into the movie Gods and Monsters starring Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser. Bill Condon adapted the screenplay and directed. Condon won an Academy Award for his adaptation.

In 2001, Bram was a Guggenheim Fellow. In 2003, he received the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement. He currently resides in New York.

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5 stars
347 (34%)
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453 (45%)
3 stars
160 (16%)
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26 (2%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 94 reviews
Profile Image for Jesse.
435 reviews420 followers
March 1, 2017
Bram’s fictionalized account of the last weeks of iconic horror director James Whale—most famous for creating the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein—can be enjoyed on any number of levels, but what I found so exquisite is how Bram handles his story like a prism or a crystal, constantly discovering unexpected facets to refract his narrative through: a representation of midcentury sexual mores, a glimpse behind the curtains of the early days of the Hollywood studio system, a defense of the important role art plays in making life meaningful, a dramatization of the long-lingering traumas of the World Wars, a depiction of the experience of aging in a society that values youth and “now”-ness above all else. It is the last dynamic, I admit, that most captivated me, its poignancy smoothing over the occasional clunkiness of the flashbacks. But overall it’s a very beautiful evocation of what can happen when a long and rich lifetime of experiences falls prey to an aging, infirmed body.

The tentative, unexpected pas de deux between Whale and his yard man Clayton Boone—all disaffected, rage-y midcentury blue collar white man who feels vaguely gypped by the world—is gracefully rendered, often foregoing expected narrative pathways to explore more unpredictable territories of desire and eroticism and human connection. Bram is also a careful scholar, and there are some delightful cameo appearances and other wonderful references and bits of trivia for the cinephilically inclined reader to savor, even though such foreknowledge is by no means necessary (indeed, I imagine it would just align one more with the character of Boone).

Gay literature and culture, like so much else, has a tendency to fetishize the presence and perspectives of youth, and so it was wonderful to find in Bram’s characterization of Whale a great gay character of a certain age—complicated and not without sadness but certainly not tragic, elegantly balancing the deep, sometimes harsh wisdom of maturity with a disarming rapier wit. I have not yet seen the 1998 film adaptation, which in some ways is even more widely acclaimed, but will be rectifying the situation soon.

'Before I retired, you might say I had a brief time in the sun. Fame, as it were. I used to make talking pictures…'

It takes Clay a moment to realize he means movies. 'You were an actor?'

'Oh, no. Nothing that grand. Only a director.'

[The actual James Whale and his infamous cinematic progeny.]
Profile Image for Mike.
508 reviews107 followers
February 20, 2019
Father of Frankenstein, later retitled as Gods and Monsters, is an exquisite book first and foremost. A satisfying meal that delivers respectful experimentation with genre, a mixture of truth and "art-truth", fabulous dialogue, and in many instances, writing that is both stunning and without pretense. Bram's such a natural at style, plain and simple. For example:

"Yes, he does have that stony, sullen masculinity that Americans found dangerous in juvenile delinquents but becoming in their soldiery."

There's more, but the point in his craft is his versatility in rendering exquisite scenarios of World War I battles as well as very specific, inside-baseball scoops on the creation of James Whale's films. The story is one about, among many things, a director losing grip between what he can control as a film and what he can control in life. The way traumatic brain injury manifests in the book feels very real, as the disorienting state I felt after my concussion rang true in many of the struggles Whale encounters after his stroke: dizziness, absent-mindedness, poorer coordination, constantly derailing trains of thoughts, and more. Its form-and-content unity leads us to a fashionably Gothic ending as well.

Where Bram sort of stumbles here and there are the scenes with our heterosexual dope gardener, Clayton Boone. He is subject to two very long-winded scenes, one which is a clumsily awkward scene that occurs in a bar; the objective is to juxtapose his viewing of Bride of Frankenstein on TV as opposed to Whale's own viewing of it that happens concurrently, but Bram decides to use it as an opportunity for some tin-ear-inspired character development. As a parody of literary fiction's obsession with the angst of silly straight white men, it's pretty good; but if it's meant to be taken as a deepening of the character, it's a bit of a cringe-inducing bore. Clayton is fascinating in how poorly he's erected his own personal boundaries, but even so, consider me relieved that in the film adaptation, the entire Clayton Boone tantrum after watching the film is mercifully edited down to a clean minute or two.

Still a very satisfying, engrossing book that never ever gets overly intoxicated with its own cleverness, never too satisfied with its own eloquence or poise, and pivots from genre to genre so effortlessly one can't help but think Bram knows how to do pretty much anything. And he kind of did with this book, and for that, it's very goddamned good.
Profile Image for Julie.
55 reviews1 follower
October 29, 2007
Close look at psychological breakdown. Very interesting to take a look at 1950s Hollywood!
Profile Image for Scott Pomfret.
Author 14 books43 followers
June 7, 2016
Originally titled "Father of Frankenstein" and subsequently changed to "Gods and Monsters" to match the movie version, this novel is a subtly charming rendition of the last two weeks of the life of James Whale, director of horror flicks Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein (as well as many others). At this point in his life, Whale has just recovered (somewhat) from a stroke and is living alone in his mansion. After making the acquaintance of his young, butch, former Marine yardman Clayton, Whale sets in motion a hare-brained scheme to end his own life.

What gives the novel texture are the nuanced portraits of the unsophisticated but ultimately soft-hearted Clayton (who is encountering a professed homosexual for the first time in his life -- that he knows of) and Whale, who is haunted by his working class origins in England as well as by his haunting experiences in the Great War. In particular, Whale's mix of the maudlin, queeny repartee, and a drole and dismal gallows humor drive the narration.

Bram's prose is workmanlike and simple, but the portraits are nuanced and there is a sprinkle of Hollywood glitz over the whole. Bram's amusingly self-deprecating Afterword (written after the film version's release) is a humorous counterpoint to the novel's inevitable end.
62 reviews3 followers
February 18, 2010
Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram 1995 read in Feb 2010
A novel using James Whale the real director of Frankenstein, and Bride of Frankenstein as the main character. This fictional account of the directors last days was the basis for the movie, “Gods and Monsters”. I read this after reading Mr Bram’s non-fiction book of essays, Mapping the Territory. I was so taken by his clear and precise writing, I knew I would enjoy anything he wrote. And I was correct. He is also a great story teller. I greatly enjoyed this book and his description of an old man realizing he is losing his mind, and sense of reality. I recommend this book
Profile Image for Francis Williams.
6 reviews2 followers
August 10, 2014
A moving and perceptive novel that takes as its protagonist a real person, Hollywood director James Whale, who died in the 1950s forgotten by Hollywood but not by legions of horror movie fans. The novel is multilayered and complex and deals with the theme of the artist who can no longer practice his art: abandoned by the film establishment, Whale can no longer make movies, and a stroke has destroyed his ability to sketch and paint. Bram skillfully interweaves themes of Whale's life with those of his best-remembered film, Bride of Frankenstein. The book chronicles the complicated friendship that develops between Whale and his hunky ex-Marine yard man, Clay Boone . Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Paul.
74 reviews3 followers
September 16, 2009
This is an excellent book. It is written beautifully with splashes of cinematic touches that, of course are mini-pastiches of Whale's own work. It is artfully done and although it probably bears little resemblance to the actual last month of Whale's life, sometimes literature speaks greater truth than journalism. Bram's prose is elegant, artful, and truthfully I was looking for clunkiness given some of the melodramatic subject matter, but didn't find it. Overall, I thought it was touching and a nice "love letter" to a forgotten film icon.
Profile Image for Richard Dominguez.
855 reviews102 followers
February 7, 2023
A very sad story of James Whale the maker of the 2 movies Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. The story takes place in the early years of Hollywood, where alternative life styles were not uncommon but very in the closet.
I think that in the making of these movies James found a kindred soul in the monster Frankenstein. Haunted by his enrollment as a soldier in the war and his loss of his love James finds himself lost and surrounded by an empty life.
His only 2 companions a maid who secretly loves James and a grounds keeper whom James has unrequited feelings for.
Well written this is a story that will be told over and over in a world filled with prejudices of all kinds.
Profile Image for Russell Sanders.
Author 10 books15 followers
September 27, 2015
Christopher Bram, in Gods and Monsters, has created a beautifully poignant novel that tells of a friendship between famed movie director James Whale (Frankenstein; Bride of Frankenstein; Show Boat) and fictional character Clayton Boone, Whale’s supposed yard man. Some of what’s here is truth; most of it is invented. But Bram creates a lovely relationship between a aging and dying gay man and a young man who sees Whale’s pain and, though not gay himself, is sensitive enough to provide the support the older man needs. All this takes place in the late 1950s, a period that Bram evokes brilliantly. Having read this book and another of Bram’s, that one set during WWII, I marveled at the ease and skill Bram has at creating the atmosphere of another era. His writing is flawless in that respect, and it is flawless in his character development, as well. Originally titled Father of Frankenstein, the book was re-titled when an Academy-award winning film was made of it. God and Monsters is a perfectly fitting title. The film, winning for its screenplay based on Bram’s novel and written by its director, is a wonderful film. This novel, its source, is wonderful as well. Unlike many film adaptations, these two works compliment and complement each other. Read the book; see the movie. Time well spent.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 14 books122 followers
March 27, 2020
Having just read this novel a third time, I realized I hadn't written a review. Bram's masterful blend of fact-based biography, fictional characters and Hollywood gossip, combined with detailed poetic description and an in-depth examination of illness, aging and disability, make for compelling reading.

As a fan of Whale's 'Frankenstein' films since childhood, I can now see how the gay aesthetic touch filled the 'Bride' film, particularly the final scenes, which Bram dramatizes to perfection in the filming chapter. But more, his passages into the mind of Whale, whose stroke alters his perception of reality with painful wartime flashbacks, pair brilliantly with Boone's self-doubt and masculine frailty.

Although both Boone, with his frustrations, and Whale, a tragic hero, could not be more different, their brief friendship makes this a profound yet intimately told story.
Profile Image for LenaRibka.
1,427 reviews416 followers
April 11, 2018
Audible headphones_icon_1

Beautifully written. A touching story. Sad and funny.
Knowing about the background makes this novel even more interesting.

A fantastic audio book with a great narrator.

In the near future I have to watch a movie!
But I don't think a movie, doesn't matter how good it is, can be as good as a book.

Highly recommended!

I should write a proper review, maybe I will. I wish I have more time for my hobby- reading and writing reviews after...
Profile Image for Jason.
12 reviews8 followers
July 24, 2007
Overtly gay? Yes. Entertaining? Sure. But what got me reading and reading this book was my sudden fascination with James Whale and the Frankenstein movies. Okay, most of this never really happened. But it's easy to believe it could have. Christopher Bram, I applaud you.
Profile Image for Bert Z.
606 reviews12 followers
November 16, 2018
An absolute gem. If only all books were as beautiful and special and poignant, this book is EVERYTHING! I can’t recommend it enough. All the stars in all the galaxies.
Profile Image for Crystal O'Leary-Davidson.
223 reviews9 followers
March 2, 2021
James, just home from the hospital and suffering the effects of his stroke, finds himself stuck in the past, as his memories flood into him at unexpected moments. Clay, his gardener, is dissatisfied with his past and feels stuck in his present. Both men are unable to move into a future until their paths cross. A beautiful book. Christopher Bram is a lyrical writer of this poignant imagining of last two weeks of the life of James Whale, best known as the director of FRANKENSTEIN and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Faithfully adapted into the fantastic film, GODS AND MONSTERS, I highly recommend this novel, a fascinating glimpse into the private lives of these fictionalized characters and this real moment in post-war Hollywood and America.
Profile Image for John J Questore.
Author 2 books24 followers
November 3, 2016
Is there any better subject matter to read during the month of October than classic monsters? I think not. And there's really no better book to read than "Father of Frankenstein" or as it is now known "Gods and Monsters".

I have to admit, this is one of the few times where I saw the movie before reading the book. However, unlike the other times, it really didn't matter in this instance. Both the book and the movie were brilliantly written and executed - and can both stand on their own.

But, going back to my first paragraph, this isn't a novel about the movie Frankenstein. In fact, it has very little to do with the movie, or the creature. It's about James Whale - a director who would have slipped into obscurity if not for, in my opinion, this book. When movies like Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein were made, nobody gave the director a second glance. In today's day and age, this is not the case, where some movies are given accolades based solely on the director. Names like Spielberg, Scorsese, Kubrick, Burton, Cameron, Lucas, and Scott are as common to people as any leading actor.

Mr. Jimmy, as he was affectionately called, led an interesting life. There is a lot of speculation revolving around him, and he was known to make up stories about his history - which is what makes him such an interesting character.

Christopher Bram took a true story about Mr. Jimmy's last days and wove an interesting fictional tale about James Whale's interaction with a gardener. James was dealing with the after effects of a stroke and couldn't handle the phantom smells, colliding memories, multiple side effects of the drugs, and just wanted to end his life (which he subsequently did). He originally wanted to goad Clay (the gardener) into murdering him - leaving a note that absolved Clay of any wrong doing - but later regretted that decision and drowned himself in his pool.

The book, as well as the movie, is a very touching tale of friendship, being forgotten, an dealing with a stroke.

Give it a chance - you won't regret it.
596 reviews1 follower
August 5, 2017
This is such a wonderful book and I must say the movie was a faithful adaption of the novel . I read this novel eons ago, even before they made the movie because I love the author, Christopher Bram. In case you don't this is a fictional account of the last months of movie director James Whales. Mr Whales is recovering as best he can from a debilitating stroke that has affected his mind and even sense of smell. He remembers things from his past so vividly and painfully. James Whales was ahead of his time in many ways, unapologetic for being a gay man ( the story takes place in 1957) and not ashamed for his attraction to men. Mr Whales tells most of story to his gardner, Clay Boone who is sitting for his portrait being painted. Both men are at a crossroads in their life. Clay, who is just in his mid - twenties, feel he hasn't lived. Everything he's tried hasn't gotten the desired results, going to college, entering the military, and at the age of 26, he's still mowing grass, living in a trailer, and bedding any woman he can. Both men want something from the other, and are trapped in fear to ask for it. Oh, such a wonderful book! It's about so many things. This is definitely a wonderful and well written read!
Profile Image for Taylor P.
406 reviews1 follower
May 30, 2015
This true-life-saga-turned-novel is deeply affecting and impeccably crafted. I was most personally impressed by the nuanced portrayal of what it was to be gay in the trenches, what it was to be gay in the early golden years of Hollywood, what it was and is to be gay when the world around you refuses to treat you justly, and at the same time how wealth can be both a means of escaping the conundrums and the doldrums and a means of entrapping you further within them. Its LGBT themes aside, the novel also effectively grapples with aging, with loss, with class divides, with the futility of nostalgia, and all while drawing the reader in zigzags through the life and times of James Whale, the real creator of the filmic Frankenstein and his many monsters. The only reason Father of Frankenstein didn't get the fifth star is because in its second half the narrative voice becomes too detached, distancing itself a bit too much from the characters it describes, and as a result, the audience is less engaged with them, less determined to wish them redemptions and happy endings. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I look forward to seeing the film based on it, Gods and Monsters.
Profile Image for Jenny.
205 reviews1 follower
October 18, 2012
As a fan of old horror films, I very much enjoyed this glimpse into James Whale's life and, ultimately, his death. It was exciting to look in on the moment when Elsa Lanchester was transformed into the Bride of Frankenstein, and to hear Greta Garbo tell Whale that she wished she could've been his monster's bride. Since this book is a fictionalization, I don't know how or if these things actually happened, but I like thinking of them the way they are written here.

I thought the author was very successful in overlapping the Frankenstein mythos with Whale's own story to help get across the sadness of his final days. At times, I found myself wishing I could step inside the book to try to convince Whale of the enduring value his monster films, and that they are not just the fluff that he seems to think they are. My only criticisms are that once in a while the prose seemed over-written, and occasionaly I found the omniscient point of view to be stilted, but this was a fun and interesting book overall.
Profile Image for Sean.
154 reviews8 followers
December 21, 2010
A moving and humane book about a great cinematic hero, James Whale, director of Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Old Dark House and Showboat. This book, which formed the basis for the movie Gods and Monsters, gives us a wonderful, somewhat vain and irascible character wrestling with his own declining powers. Though having a clear gay perspective, it treats all it's personalities, whatever their sexuality, weaknesses or proclivities, with the dignity that allows them to be difficult and troublesome but profoundly human. Ultimately it beautifully captures both the joy and sadness of being alive on the Earth as both a creative and an inevitably corporeal being.
Profile Image for Michael Stewart.
274 reviews
December 11, 2013
This wonderful novel has one toe in "Hollywood" fiction and one in the annals of "queer" literature: the author is gay as was the real life director James Whale. This novel is the basis for the wonderful film GODS AND MONSTERS that weaves a relationship between the real Whale and the fictitious landscaper Clay Boone. A career that was largely forgotten and the strata of memories of the ailing director near life's end are two of the main threads, with the third thread being the backstory and the dangerous spark that Boone brings to Whale's ebbing life. Well written but not archly nor off-puttingly literary.
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books228 followers
March 27, 2020
When adapted into a movie, "Father of Frankenstein" was retitled "Gods and Monsters" -- and then the book's title was changed to match the movie. Here we have historical characters mingling with the invented; hidden Hollywood showing itself to privileged insiders (that is, the reader). We also have an aging gay man developing a relationship, a friendship, with a younger straight man, and like any friendship the influence is felt by both.
One of Bram's better novels, and not just because it was made into a movie. Many people feel this book is better than the movie; but of course, readers almost always say that!
July 10, 2017
Thanks to a terrible thunderstorm, and even more terrible customer service, I found myself without internet for a weekend. With nothing else to distract me I decided to sit on my front porch and do some serious reading. The weather was gorgeous, the chair comfy and the book perfect. So Perfect. It was one of those experiences that every reader lives for. I was totally lost in this book.

Profile Image for Randal.
153 reviews1 follower
December 14, 2008
This book, the basis for the film "Gods and Monsters," was a delightful read. I found it engaging with good character development that was complex but not overly so. I saw the movie before I read the book and was impressed at how true the former was to the latter.
Profile Image for Michelle Taylor.
73 reviews2 followers
September 16, 2007
One of my favorite people. He was one of only a few people that I knew when I first lived in NYC and he gave me such a unique view of his city.
Profile Image for William Bevill.
Author 8 books8 followers
January 8, 2023
One of the most engaging, compelling and well written books I have ever had the pleasure to devour. The writing is seamless and gorgeous and flows. Truly a masterful author.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 94 reviews

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