Billy is a street urchin, pickpocket and petty thief. Mister Creecher is a monstrous giant of a man who terrifies all he meets. Their relationship begins as pure convenience. But a bond swiftly develops between these two misfits as their bloody journey takes them ever northwards on the trail of their target . . . Victor Frankenstein.Friendship, trust and betrayal combine to form a dangerous liaison in this moving and frightening new book from Chris Priestley.
When I got this at BEA I’m pretty sure someone told me it was a retelling of Frankenstein for young adults. And it is, sort of, but only in the way that a “missing scene” novel is a retelling. Actually, Mister Creecher takes place during a point in Frankenstein where Dr Frank is trying to build his monster a mate1. Which is exciting, really!
One of the things I noticed right off about this book is how utterly realistic is is2. The street kids? Are miserable. There aren’t any nobly suffering matchstick girls in Mister Creecher, and there also aren’t any Daddy Warbucks wandering around just looking for a good orphan to adopt. Billy’s life is extremely difficult, and it’s informed how he’s developed as a person– both physically and mentally. In the beginning of the book it says Billy’s 15-years-old but looks 8, and how horrifying is that?
So it starts off rather dark, and it doesn’t get much lighter. The friendship between Mister Creecher and Billy is slow and unstable, not least because Creecher is prone to killing people when he gets upset. Billy, likewise, has trouble trusting people (especially murderers, to be fair) and has other issues that make their journey into friendship bumpy. When it finally happened, though, I definitely felt a bit overly sentimental. I love it when misfits find a place to belong and finally be a bit happy!
Unfortunately, it’s a relationship that’s destined to fail no matter what they do. Creecher, though intelligent and feeling, can’t help but freak people out no matter what he does. He’s also obsessed with getting a mate, and doesn’t care what happens to anyone (including Billy) as long as he gets one. Billy, meanwhile, can’t stand to be left behind, and as much as he gets used to Creecher’s unusual features he can’t help but still be repulsed by him. And then the ending sequence happens, and everything goes to shit.
Normally I like happy endings in books, but the bleak ending of Mister Creecher actually fit really well with the rest of it. This isn’t a happy world; it’s not populated by people who can be happy with what they have and leave the wanting for something less impossible. Plus, if you’ve ever seen or read anything to do with Frankenstein you know what happens to Creecher anyway– and this book isn’t a retelling of that story. It’s an expansion, an addition, and it’s not trying to change anything about the source text3.
So, in conclusion: if you like tragedies, if you like “missing scene” sort of novels, if you like Frankenstein and want to get a (slightly) different perspective on F’s monster, if you like realistic historical fiction that doesn’t pull its punches, if you just want something gothic and slightly depressing to read for Halloween: this is the book for you.
Read: September 16, 2011