Review: Monsters by Sharon Dogar
I was extremely excited to see Monsters by Sharon Dogar on NetGalley, because I’ve been obsessed with Mary Shelley’s life since studying Frankenstein at university in 2017. Expecting a novelisation of her earlier years to bring to life all of the people I’ve studied so closely, I thought this was bound to be one of my top reads of 2019.
Unfortunately, Monsters was an absolute struggle. I knew as soon as I read the first chapter that it was going to be hard – it’s written in the present tense, which is an unusual choice and doesn’t lend itself well to storytelling – but it was like pulling teeth. I’m a fast reader, and it took me almost three weeks of constant reading to get through this story.
Yes, it’s important to focus on the fact that Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin, completely disowned her when she decided to run away with Percy Bysshe Shelley. It’s also important that they were riddled with debt and had to flee locations across the continent when they couldn’t afford to pay the landlords. But the majority of the book is wholly centred on their monetary struggles, leaving the suicides of both Fanny and Harriet to happen in the last five percent (and for the deaths of two of Mary and Percy’s children, and the death of Percy himself, to happen in the afterword).
However, I do applaud Sharon Dogar for choosing the version of events she feels most likely to have happened and committing to it. A lot of authors would have written the romance between Bysshe and Claire far more subtly, as evidence of their suspected passion has been almost completely destroyed due to the removal of pages from Mary’s journal. It’s a brave move to make the events seem far more clear-cut, although it’s important to take it with a pinch of salt because there is no proof that Dogar’s version of their story is true.
If you’re interested in Mary Shelley but are planning on learning about her by reading Monsters because it isn’t non-fiction, I would highly recommend Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws. Yes, it’s a non-fiction book, but it’s told in a narrative style that makes it more gripping than most stories (and 100% more engaging than Monsters). It also tells the story of Mary’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, by running their lives parallel to each other, comparing and contrasting the events that they get up to.