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Book excerpt: "Mary and the Birth of Frankenstein" by Anne Eekhout


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In her new historical novel "Mary and the Birth of Frankenstein" (HarperVia), Dutch author Anne Eekhout recreates the fabled 1816 weekend when an 18-year-old Mary Shelley, trapped by a storm at Lord Byron's rented Swiss estate, conjured the horror tale "Frankenstein."

Read an excerpt below. 

"Mary and the Birth of Frankenstein" by Anne Eekhout

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"Mary." Albe embraces her. He smells of chamomile and something sweet, his stubble brushing her cheek. "I'm glad you came. There's something I'd like to show you."

Mary sees Percy's inability to join them and Albe's annoyance at this inability in his brief smile. He follows Claire to the drawing room. Albe takes a candlestick from the dresser and leads Mary by the hand down the hall and to a dark room at the back of the house.

Villa Diodati is considerably larger than their house, but Chapuis is better situated, she thinks. Albe's house is darker, surrounded by trees with dense foliage, like stern and eternal guards. Inside, even in the daytime, you need candles or a lamp. The doorposts, the window frames and paneling, the many bookshelves are made of mahogany, the carpets run from wall to wall, in red or blue, with equally dark patterns. Brown is also the prevailing color in Albe's study. The evening light falls through the strands of ivy that creep across the windows. Albe places the candlestick on his desk and gathers up some loose papers.

"Come here." He beckons Mary from behind his desk. "I'm working on a new part of Childe Harold. I think it's going to be good. I'd like you to read it and tell me what you think."

Something in the way Albe asks her makes her sense that there is no need for her to feel flattered; he simply views her as his equal. At least, as a critic.

So she says, "I'd be happy to. I'd like to read it."

Albe rolls up the papers. "They're copies. Feel free to make notes." He hands them to her. "Shelley may read them too. If he wishes to."

Percy will say—to her—that he does not wish to read them. But he will read them.

"Mary." The candlelight falls into the light brown of his eyes, making them deeper. "I should like to read more of your work. Something that originated inside your head, not outside of it. A real story, a poem."

"Perhaps I'm a writer like my parents," she says. "Perhaps I can only write about real things."

"I am fairly certain that is not the case." Albe smiles. "Is the difference between real and not real truly that great?"

Excerpt from "Mary and the Birth of Frankenstein." Reprinted with the permission of the publisher HarperVia, an imprint of HarperCollins. Copyright © 2023 by Anne Eekhout.

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