We’re snowed in again, which means I’ve been able to spend more time than normal reading, and I’m not complaining! That’s why today’s book review is actually two in one. I finished both of these books this week, and since they have some similarities, I thought I’d share them with you in one post.
The first book I finished was The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is a Sherlock Holmes novella that I read once when I was young and once in college (I went through a major Sherlock Holmes phase in college). I will be teaching it to my students in a few weeks, so it was time to refresh my memory. The other book is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. This is one of those books that it seems like everyone has read but me. It’s always been on my list, but I’ve never gotten around to reading it. Well, back in October I listened to Murder on the Orient Express on Audible, and that book was narrated by Dan Stevens. He did such a fantastic job that when I saw he had also read Frankenstein, I had to download it and give it a try. So let’s jump in and talk about these books!
The Hound of the Baskervilles is your classic Sherlock Holmes mystery. It’s one of the most famous Holmes tales, and with good reason. It’s set out on the British moors, and the story centers around a wealthy, land-owning family that is said to be cursed by a giant hound. When the present owner dies of mysterious causes, his nephew returns to England to take up the family seat, only to discover that the family curse might just be alive and well. I was reminded when I re-read this book just how much I enjoyed it the first (and second) time around. There are some great twists and turns, and the mood and atmosphere are truly spooky. This is also an interesting Holmes story in that he isn’t the primary figure. He isn’t even present in the narrative for much of the story, but nevertheless he steps in and solves the case. This one got my pulse racing a bit at some of the cliffhangers, and I’m so excited begin my unit in a few weeks!
Frankenstein is also a classic story, and literary lore has it that Mary Shelley wrote it on a trip to Switzerland after Lord Byron challenged every member of their group to come up with a ghost story. She wasn’t even twenty years old when she finished it! The novel is told from several different perspectives, but all of the perspectives center around Victor Frankenstein, who manages to create human life in his laboratory. Unfortunately the being that he creates wreaks havoc and causes Frankenstein’s downfall. I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would, but it didn’t really blow me away. I found the plot slightly predictable, but this could just be because I’ve heard about the book so often in English classes.
What I really enjoyed about both of these books is that they both give you a chance to explore “source texts” of a genre. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created some of the first ever mystery/detective stories, and Frankenstein could arguably be called the first science fiction novel ever penned. It’s always interesting to me to see where genres started and how the elements from those “source texts” have changed or remained the same over time. Some other examples of these “source texts” would be Dracula, which is where almost all of our vampire-related pop culture starts, and Henry V, which is where just about every war movie finds its plot.
In addition to being foundational in the formation of different genres, both of these books have suspense and atmosphere to spare! I did find that Frankenstein has much more in the way of thematic, philosophical elements. There are a lot of ethical dilemmas happening in the novel that would be good food for thought. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, however, the story is more of a classic whodunnit, which made it a little more fun to read.
So if you’re snowed in this week and you’re looking for something suspenseful to read, I’d recommend one of these! The Hound of the Baskervilles is only about fifteen chapters, so it’s a great short read for a snow day. Let me know in the comments below if you’ve read either book and what you think!