Cristina's Library

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Tag: HarperCollins

This Dark Endeavor

“You must abandon this dark endeavour” – Alphonse Frankenstein


Prepare to enter the mysterious hallways of Chateau Frankenstein, where ancient tomes and fiery passions combine to form a captivating story of jealous love, dangerous ambition, and thrilling adventure. This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel is a prequel to the famous novel by Mary Shelley, exploring the little-known history of Victor Frankenstein as a teen, before he created his notorious monster. Oppel achieves the kind of success that befalls only the best of writers: he tackles one of the most celebrated, analyzed, and dissected stories of all time – and does so, brilliantly.

I really enjoyed this book. Proof? It took me one day to read, in between breaks at work (an advantage of a small, generally overlooked cubicle), and on my commute home. I read while ascending the escalator at Downsview station, and walking home from the bus stop, under an umbrella. If you’ve read Frankenstein, you’ll be delighted to recognize a few of the names woven into the story, subtle or obvious: Polidori, “Wollstonekraft” Alley, Henry Clerval, Elizabeth Lavenza and, of course, Victor, whose hunger for admiration, lust for knowledge, deep-seated insecurity, love for his brother, and desire for superiority paint a startling picture of the man before the monster. You will feel like you understand him more after reading this.

The story revolves around 16-year old Victor, his twin, Konrad, cousin, Elizabeth, and friend, Henry Clerval, as they discover the Dark Library and embark on an adventure in the forests and caves surrounding their home near Geneva to discover the Elixir of Life, after Konrad falls deathly ill. At first, I questioned the medical accuracy and history, as I was not sure, myself – the timing of the use of IV and the study of blood (viewed warily in the book and described as “outlandish“). Then I realized that it’s fictional and doesn’t matter, anyway. The real story lies in the characters.

From the beginning, we’re aware of a deep disparity between the twins– Konrad is clearly strong, sure, and calm, while Victor is passionate, short-tempered, and errant – in other words, he’s a hothead. But I like him. Why? As always, I tend to kind of fall in love with characters that are afflicted with good qualities and tragic faults. Oppel recreates the tragic character of Shelley’s work, and we as readers feel both sympathy and anger for him.

The suppressed jealousy Victor feels toward Konrad is immediately apparent, contrasted sharply with a deep-seated love for him. At the beginning, Victor thinks, “I was suddenly angry with him for being so sensible,” later admitting, after Konrad falls ill, “I was ashamed at how powerless I was to help him.” Moments of self-awareness reveal an unsettling internal struggle between the knowledge of who he is, and the desire to be more, both personally and intellectually. He realizes his selfish, insecure, dangerously ambitious nature, and we feel upset with him for it – for wanting his brother’s love, Elizabeth, for wanting glory.

I felt a pang of remorse, but at least her eyes were on me.”

But then there are points that he is endearing, and his better side is revealed. When Elizabeth wanders into his bed, sleepwalking, he finds himself unable to take advantage of her and gently brings her back to her room. When he admits that he will never be like Konrad, and wonders if his qualities, too, could be loved. When he vows to see his brother again. Early on, he dabbles into science, feverishly reading books on anatomy, his aptitude and disquieting obsession for the subject already clear.

I’ve noticed a less-discussed topic in every review I’ve read of this book: religion. I found the age-old battle between science and religion lightly underlying the context of the novel, with references to ineffectual prayer and the dominance of science. Arguing with Elizabeth, a steadfast Catholic with an unwavering faith in God, she angrily quotes Victor’s father, who thinks religion is “an outmoded system of belief that has controlled and abused people, and that will wizen away under the glare of science.” While looking at a stained-glass window in the church, Victor thinks, “Wine to blood. Lead to gold. Medicine dripped into my brother’s veins. The transmutation of matter. Was it magic or science? Fantasy or truth?”  And when Elizabeth is praying, he wonders if she believes herself or merely wants to. A question I’m sure we all wonder.

Oppel introduces a twist to Shelley’s story, by creating Konrad, Victor’s identical twin. Some may like this difference, and some may be slightly perturbed by the fact that he didn’t adhere to what is stated in Frankenstein about Victor’s siblings. Regardless, it is irrelevant: both stories are fictional, and the author may do as they wish. Further to the point, in Frankenstein, Victor is relaying the story to someone on his deathbed, and parts of it could be considered vague or discreet. Oppel has done a fantastic job of filling in the gaps and revealing a version of history.

I think the most important comment in the book was Henry’s, after the trio left Polidori’s: “Is the Elixir something that should be made?” Posed innocently, out of fear of reprisal from Victor’s father, the question is of essential concern, one that humankind has been confronting for centuries: Do we really want to live forever? And, if so, how?

In This Dark Endeavour, Oppel brings this topic, and the story of Frankenstein, back into the forefront, into the minds of youths who otherwise don’t know it, and adults who have forgotten.

Looking forward to the movie!

Click here to see Kenneth Oppel discussing Frankenstein and This Dark Endeavour.

Word on the Street, 2011

The word on the street is that people really love books. A lot.
It was so wonderful to see this, and the joy that reading brings to people, at this year’s Word on the Street. The comforting sound of ruffled pages, excited chatter, scolding parents, and good old-fashioned book-bartering brought a smile to many faces. Kids and adults alike sprawled on the grass in Queen’s Park and U of T, drinking in the sunlight, gleefully peeling corn-on-the-cobs and balancing ketchup-laden hot-dogs with bags of books. Kids and tweens raced from booth-to-booth, flipping through picture books, paperbacks, and classics, begging their parents to buy them — “Pleeeeeeeaaase, mom!” Teens strolled nonchalantly, maintaining an air of uber-coolness, but unable to mask their thrill after picking up the latest in the Pretty Little Liars or Nine Lives of Chloe King series for a sweet 30% off. Spontaneous audiences clapped and cheered at the amazing street magician, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the right moments. Word on the Street was fun and enjoyable for all.
HarperCollins definitely stole the show at the Queen’s Park/University Ave. junction, offering backlist titles at $2 – $3, as well as a seriously energetic team that drew in the crowds. It was dramatic. I actually stood outside the tent to watch for a few seconds (I was volunteering on the Frontlist side). Like bees to honey, people stood on their tiptoes to see what was there, shouting their orders to loved ones closer to the table. Hands and arms flailed madly around the red-and-white striped circus tent, stealthily snaking through the throng of bodies, trying to reach the books. It was mayhem.
Wonderful, absolute mayhem.
Simon & Schuster, The Labyrinth, BMV, Between the Lines, and Cormorant also topped my list on great booths to peruse — great deals, interesting titles, and friendly people! There were Canadian magazines and newspapers, including the Toronto Star, which had beautiful photos of vintage Toronto and The Walrus, where you could get a year’s subscription for only $20 — and a free bag!
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to visit any of the stages, but I bought 10 books and spent about $30. How is that even possible? AND I got some freebies. Which, as we know, is the best part of any street festival. A few of the titles I picked up included Palo Alto by James Franco, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar, Strangers in Paris (an anthology by Tightrope Books), a collection of Thomas Hardy poems, Dubliners by James Joyce, and a collection of Spanish poetry during the Renaissance — I have varied tastes, as you can tell. I can’t wait to start reading!
The best thing I saw at Word on the Street? It was 5pm and I was sitting on a patch of grass outside Victoria College near Avenue & Bloor, trying to organize the disaster that was my bundle of bags, when I noticed him.  A homeless man walked towards Bloor, his face turned up to the sun, occasionally drumming his hand against the yellow metal fence barricading the street. He held a small plastic bag. And inside, I could make out the rectangular shape of a single paperback. Just one. It likely cost everything he gathered in his hat that day — even if it was only a couple of dollars. He seemed to be in his own world, maybe a little crazy, but he was, undeniably, content.
He had something to read later.

In the name of September…

Fall is the onset of the most beautiful death we can ever know. Each earthy element of life begins to wane, their breath slowing, in preparation for Winter. Leaves burn red, orange, gold, and deep mustard, before curling in at the edges and floating slowly, lifelessly, to the ground. The sun seems to lose strength day by day, finding it harder and harder to keep its eyes open, and a cool, diaphanous wind settles over the city.
The world is getting ready to die.
And yet, we feel so full of life, the nature around us vibrant and colorful and bursting with flavour. Autumn makes me feel peaceful and content, pensive and exhilarated. It is the most wonderful time of the year — my favourite! Apple-picking with Maria. Pumpkin-flavoured things, including the glorious pumpkin-spiced latte (a new part of my weekly ritual). Warm apple cider, and cool leather jackets. Sweaters. Yams. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Fall festivals. Fall birthdays, including mine. Football. Gray skies above, gossamer clouds below. Afternoon drives in the weakened sun, a brilliant harmony of autumn colours whirring by your window. Really, does it get any better than that? I’ve been so excited for Fall to start that I started wearing scarves in August (I leave for work at 6am…it’s cold at that time).

My life has completely changed this fall. It’s the first September I’m not going back to school. I still cannot believe it. It’s sometimes difficult to come to grips with the reality of change, especially when you’ve been accustomed to something for so long. Where did the time go? As a total nerd, I was always excited about going back to school. I used to get tired of summer mid-August, unable to mask my excitement for new notebooks and bookmarks, back-to-school shopping, organizing my pencil case, and getting my outfit ready for the first day — I don’t think I was ever very fashionable, but I tried. I did.
In elementary school, my brother and I would walk through the park in front of my house to get to school, kicking leaves all over the place, our bodies slightly slanted from the weight of our knapsacks. But, suddenly, Halloween dance-a-thons, running door to door, yelling “trick-or-treat!”, and trips to the pumpkin farm gave way to high school costume parties, bad karaoke, and wild nights. And, just yesterday, I felt like I was a confused and enormously shy first-year at U of T walking through Queen’s Park with a map, trying to look cool and unconcerned about being an hour late for a class I couldn’t find.

But, alas, 5 wonderful years have passed since then. I wouldn’t change a thing.

At the end of August, I started my internship at HarperCollins Canada, which is turning out to be a valuable learning experience. Everyone has been extremely helpful and kind from the first day, and I’m meeting a lot of great people. The amount of mailings and catalogs to design and things to print and pitch letters to write and calls to make is slightly daunting, and sometimes exhausting. But always abetted by my ambitious and inspiring intern allies in Intern Ally, Jane and Siobhan, who keep my spirits up and my tomato-intake high. I feel like I’m exactly where I want to be. Perks: FREE BOOKS, which I am constantly gifting to friends and family. If you’re a close friend, love, or family member of mine, you’ve probably already received a book from me. The piles of books on my desk inspires me, each day, to write, and I do. When I have a free moment, when an idea pops into my head, I scribble into the beautiful Christian Lacroix journal that my good friend, Danielle, bought me. In fact, I hope to take some time off in the Winter to seriously pursue my writing — if I don’t do it now, I doubt I ever will.
In other book-related news, I joined a book club! Our first meeting was a success, and they’re a great group of girls. I can’t wait to discuss the first book on our list: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. I’m not finished yet, but I’m in love with it so far–expect a full review soon!

-CR