Roman Clodia's Reviews > A Fatal Likeness

A Fatal Likeness by Lynn Shepherd
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did not like it

This book is written in lovely prose - but I hate its depiction of Mary Shelley which is vicious, malicious and would be positively libellous if written about someone alive today. Shepherd has read the standard biographies, the letters, the journals - and then has chosen to ignore them in creating a monstrous Mary Shelley.

Unlike Shepherd's last two books, this doesn't make an intervention into a classic novel, instead it takes on the Shelley `circle' - Shelley, Byron, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont - and, particularly, the motifs of death that followed them: the suicides of Shelley's first wife, and Mary Shelley's half-sister Fanny Imlay; the succession of dead babies; the early death of Shelley himself before the age of 30, and turns them into a personal indictment of Mary Shelley.

Shepherd tries to justify her treatment in an afterword but I'm afraid I disagree both with her thesis (for which there is no evidence) and the way in which she puts it forward in this book. Her argument about the authorship question of Frankenstein can be fairly easily discounted as the 1818 manuscript for the novel exists in the Bodleian in Mary Shelley's handwriting, and Shepherd's assertion that it was dictated by Shelley is spurious in the extreme. More pressing, however, is the unpleasant emotional manipulations this book makes in its depiction of Mary Shelley, and its radical re-writing of the relationship between Claire Clairmont and Shelley.

I can't expand without significant spoilers but readers may want to compare this novel with some of the scholarly literature on the Shelley `circle': Richard Holmes' seminal Shelley: The Pursuit, and Janet Todd's Shelley and the Maiden are particularly relevant to some of the issues central to this book, though offering very different and far more subtle and nuanced interpretations without whitewashing or eliding the undoubtedly disturbing elements of the story. There are also many volumes of letters and journals from all these participants which are available in university and research libraries, and which serve as the basis for the biographies noted above.

It may be argued that this as `just fiction' - but I'm afraid I found this a jaundiced, hostile and deeply unpleasant recreation of a woman whose own writings reveal someone very different. Read this by all means, but do bear in mind that it's one person's rendition, in fictional form, of a group of real people who, sadly, can't defend themselves against the profoundly disturbing accusations made against them here.
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Finished Reading
June 25, 2016 – Shelved

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