Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley, like Wicked, is another novel that takes characters from a familiar source and reimagines parts of their lives. I read this one with the Sci Fi Experience in mind, although the library stuck a “Horror” sticker on the spine. I guess it’s either–or both.
It’s a story about Frankenstein’s creature (see what Priestley did with the title there? 🙂 ), midway through Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The story is from the point of view of Billy, an orphan pickpocket on the streets of London, who one dark night tries to pick the pockets of a dead body–only to have the body get up. Billy and “Mr. Creecher” are thrown together by circumstances briefly, and then because Creecher wants Billy’s help to follow someone–Victor Frankenstein, who has promised to build Creecher a mate. Partially through fear and partially through avarice, Billy finds himself pulled into a situation that is far stranger and darker than he expected.
This was an odd reading experience, because I enjoyed it while I was reading it. And then I thought about it afterwards and decided the whole thing didn’t really work. Most of the book is about the wary friendship that grows between Billy and Creecher. It’s about Billy growing out of the scared pickpocket he was, and, we hope, into a better life. Except…
Slight spoiler here. I won’t tell you details, but I will tell you that both the friendship and Billy’s growth make an abrupt U-turn in the last portion of the book. In a way it’s necessary–the creature’s tragedy is that he’s alone. He has to be alone. Having a genuine friend just won’t work. And Billy turns out to be from another piece of classic literature, which is very clever–except that it means I’ve spent a whole book getting to like someone, who eventually grows up to be a character I’ve always hated (and still do). I just don’t know how to feel about that. Perhaps it was meant to be a new look at two monsters from literature.
Another problem is that this book is only the middle part of Frankenstein. Nothing really happens except for following Victor Frankenstein around England. So if the book isn’t about the creature finding a friend, and if it isn’t about Billy growing into a better person, and if it doesn’t cover any of the major events of Frankenstein…what IS it about? And that, much as I enjoyed reading it while I was reading it, is the question I can’t answer.
It’s too bad, because I loved the premise. I’ve read Frankenstein, and even though I really liked it, Victor is one of the few first-person narrators I’ve ever absolutely hated. Frankenstein from a different point of view, especially one more sympathetic to the creature, sounds great! I’m just not so sure about where the book actually decided to go.
On the positive side, for most of the book Creecher and Billy were both very good characters. I’m impressed by how Priestley handled the creature. I thought it was very true to the original, who was complicated. It would be easy to either make him nice and purely sympathetic, or to make him the shambling, near-brainless mute of the movies. Instead, Priestley kept him complicated. He’s very intelligent, well-spoken, and is even reading Jane Austen at one point. He’s deeply saddened that everyone rejects him, and he longs for companionship. At the same time, he has a serious temper that is easily aroused, and when he’s angry, he thinks very little of killing people. Complicated, and very well-drawn.
Billy is complicated too–he’s had some really, really rotten luck in his life, but he’s also not totally a victim in his circumstances. He was forced into a thief’s life because he had no other options, but he also enjoys robbing people, and he isn’t too scrupulous about it (he’s really not Robin Hood). He’s thrilled that Creecher is the perfect thief’s assistant, and actually pushes Creecher into helping him rob people. One of my favorite moments of the book was when Billy is feeling upset about something, and Creecher asks him if he’d feel better if they robbed someone (answer: yes). Billy has a complicated relationship with Creecher too, as his feelings fluctuate frequently. Billy has some cynicism and some darkness, but mostly he’s sympathetic. I will tell you that the person he turns out to be is NOT.
Maybe this was meant to be a kind of Anakin-Skywalker-to-Darth-Vader story, the birth of a villain instead of the birth of a hero. But most of the book didn’t seem to have Billy on that trajectory, and when he did finally turn to the Dark Side, so to speak, it felt more contrived than not.
One thing that was fun about this book–Mary and Percy Shelley have cameos, and were probably the happiest people in the novel. They were a fun little addition.
But really, the whole book was enjoyable–until I try to make any sense out of the wandering plot and the bizarre character turns. We had a raging debate last month about my issues with Ender’s Game. I have a feeling less people have read Mister Creecher, but if you have, and if you know what it was about, please let me know!
Author’s Site: http://chrispriestley.blogspot.com/
Other reviews (I actually found a LOT):
Bride of the Book God
The Excelsior File (contains spoilers!)
Becky’s Book Reviews
Shelly’s Book Blog
And there are others–let me know if one of them is yours and I’ll add it!