Released: September 2014
When Victor Frankenstein arrives on Hoy, a small Orkney Island, everything starts to change for the islanders. Strange things wash up on the shore, livestock disappears and the weather is wrong, unnaturally hot. Some believe it is the result of the Napoleonic wars. Oona, the protagonist, senses these changes more than most and doesn’t believe that for a moment. She knows something is wrong.
Oona, an orphan raised by her God fearing grandmother, is more than a little fascinated by the rumours circulating the island abut Doctor Frankenstein. Oona’s best friend, May, has taken a job at his house so Oona visits in order to find out more about the strange happenings. Consequently she finds herself working there as well. Oona is intrigued by Doctor Frankenstein and his knowledge. He seems equally fascinated by Oona and the hereditary arrhythmic heart which caused her mother to die so young.
Although Oona knows her heart is weak and she is fated to die young, she has a thirst for knowledge and living that allow her to push superstitions and fears to one side. When May goes missing Oona knows that, for the islanders, Frankenstein is the chief suspect but she is not so sure. Determined to find out what has happened to May, she sets out to investigate and seek justice if necessary.
From the very first page The Monster’s Wife grips the reader with its pithy introduction to the island and life on it. It is a novel full of startling imagery with vivid and mesmerising descriptions of the landscape and changing weather that only enhance the developing plot.
All the novel’s characters are full-bodied and powerful but none so much so as Oona, who dislikes many of them with an intensity that is easy to understand. Compared to her they seem narrow minded and immature. Oona finds life on the narrow island stifling and longs for freedom and a chance to see the world but doubts that she will live long enough. Frankenstein offers her the chance to learn more by assisting him in his experiments, even though she finds it hard to come to terms with some of them.
Oona makes a magnificent protagonist for modern times; determined, feisty and dogmatic. She exemplifies the troubled teenager struggling to fit into a life where she feels she does not belong and refuses to give up her beliefs. No matter what life and the harsh Orkney weather coupled with her failing health throw at Oona, her stubbornness and sense of integrity force her to carry on seeking to find the truth despite the reactions and treatment of her fellow islanders.
I always enjoy reading a story expressed from a solitary viewpoint so I did find it jarring when the narrative suddenly switched a long way into the novel but I was supposed to. This changing of perspectives was essential to the development of the story and only added to my admiration for the skilful way Kate Horsley writes. Towards the end I found that I was tiring of the landscape despite the exquisite descriptions of it – almost as much as Oona was. Then again I did have to hurry along to get this review written up. I never tired of Oona though and longed for something to go right for her.
If you want to know whether it does or not then you will have to read it for yourself and find out. It takes a really skilful writer to drag you so far into the story that you feel you are not merely reading or watching as an outsider but living the experience alongside the protagonist. Kate Horsley is one such author though, and this really is a novel to take your time with. It is dark, atmospheric and moody – an excellent read for the long dark nights of winter.