Monday, 17 March 2014

Review: 'Hyde' by Daniel Levine

I had to study the original The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde last term at university and wrote an essay about how an enterprising scientist such as Jekyll form a greater danger to society than "normal" criminals like Hyde. I wish I had been able to read this book in November because it provides incredible and new insights into this classic tale.
A reimagining of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the monster's perspective, Hyde makes a hero of a villain. As a bonus, Stevenson's original novel is included at the back. 
Mr. Hyde is hiding, trapped in Dr. Jekyll's surgical cabinet, counting the hours until capture. As four days pass, he has the chance, finally, to tell the story of his brief, marvelous life.
I haven't used the entire synopsis given on Goodreads because I think it gives away a lot. Part of the attraction of the novel is that although some things are known, others are a mystery. This is why I would argue that previous knowledge of the original definitely adds to the reading experience. Knowing what has to happen adds and kind of desperate tone to the whole narrative and moves Hyde into the category of the classical Tragic Hero. He is a flawed man, seriously so, but many of his flaws cannot be helped. The obsession with evolution and scientific progression, combined with Victorian anxieties, makes for an explosive mix in which the "birth" of Hyde becomes the catalyst for the unraveling of relationships and attitudes which may always have been fake.What I really enjoyed about this adaptation was the way it seemed to explore how "evil" really was created and what exactly evil is. It seems really straight forward in the original, but here crimes and criminals seem to abound once one begins to realize everyone has something to hide. Where The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the perfect moral allegory for the Victorian age, with its beautifully balanced and defined good versus bad, Daniel Levine's Hyde serves as a mirror to our own age in which the boundaries between good and evil are blurred and there is more grey than black or white.

Levine's writing is one of the aspects that make this novel amazing. Having to compete with Stevenson's writing is a hard task, which is why it is good Levine chose to go for a more direct, more intimate style that avoids the narrator-hopping that the original did and creates a London full of back alleys and Gothic mansions. The way the text flows, the reader becomes more and more trapped in the narrative. Similarly to how a web slowly closes around Jekyll and Hyde, the reader gets caught up in the intrigue and mystery of the novel. Where the original always left me slightly detached because Stevenson switches from one narrator to the other, giving the reader a number of different angles all of which still come to the same conclusion regarding Hyde. Levine introduces a number of new characters and expands upon some existing ones, allowing the narrative to become whole rather than a one-sided story which does seem to be in favour of Jekyll over Hyde.

As adaptations go, I generally don't enjoy them. Often I feel like the authors only try to add sensationalist plots, such as murder or any other crime, without actually adding anything more to the characters than the original book did. I know that this is a generalization and not true for many books, but it might explain why I am so enthousiastic about this one. I was not expecting it to be so strong independently. At times I forgot about the original and accepted Hyde as a much more fascinating main character. I think this is a pretty strong feat on Levine's part. There are certain aspects to the backstory he creates for Jekyll where Levine digs quite deeply in (Freudian) psychology. I guess these are up to the readers' taste. I thought Levine's additions to the original worked and really added a new level to the story.

I give this novel...
4 Universes!

I decided not to give this one five, although I was seriously considering it. In my eyes it is close to overshadowing the original but I don't know whether that is because I've just finished it and am in heaven or because it is genuinely that fantastic. What I can say is that I will buy it. I think this is a valuable addition ot my bookshelves and yours.

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