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Book Review: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley

mister creecher chris priestley Book Review: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley

When used in a review, the term ambitious tends not to refer to a book that is brilliant or superlative, but rather an authors making an admirable effort at something a little differentand falling short of the mark. But, honestly, who doesnt prefer an ambitious, yet flawed book to one thats solid but otherwise unremarkable?

Chris Priestleys Mister Creecher'is one such book in that what makes it notable is what it aims to achieve rather than what it actually does. The novel runs alongside the narrative of Mary Shelleys Frankenstein, picking up at the point where Victor Frankenstein is travelling through the UK in an effort to meet his creations demands that he construct a mate for it. In Shelleys original, Frankenstein is beset by fears that he is being followed by the creature, and its this that Priestley takes up in Mister Creecher. Were introduced to young Billy, a teenaged thief living a life of poverty and brutalisation on the streets of Dickensian London, as he frisks the pockets of a chap lying dead on the ground. Only, as it turns out, said chap isnt quite as dead as he seems (deadness is a gradeable adjective when it comes to Frankensteinian monsters).

Fortunately, when he regains consciousness, Billys would-be victim is not especially inclined to get his own back at Billy. Rather, he defends Billy against Billys cruel and callous boss and offers the boy a job that involves stealthily following two menVictor Frankenstein and his childhood friend Henry Clervalas they travel through the country on a mission that is as-yet unknown to Billy, but which will be familiar to those who have read Frankenstein.

From this point onwards, the novel largely takes the form of an eighteenth century road trip novel, only without the fun given to the genre by the Beats, and with a few maudlin injections of inspiration from the romantics and the gothics. (There are, also, plenty of cameos, with Mary Shelley stopping by for a bit, and a few more puzzling references to Bradbury and Kafka, who presumably arrived courtesy of HG Wellss time machine, though theres no mention of this last.) Theres something about it all that feels so very futile, although perhaps given the premise this is unavoidable. After all, what would be the point of the story of Frankensteins monster if it werent beset by hopelessness and inexorable tragedy?

And, indeed, its these elements that make Mister Creecher'interesting, although if Im to be honest the novel really only works for me on a thematic level, with the inelegant prose and weak characterisation thwarting the books efforts to become a philosophical companion piece to Shelleys remarkable work of moral and existential examination.

As in Frankenstein, one of the key dilemmas is the nature of humanity and what makes someone human. Priestley seems to argue that whether someone can be labelled human or not is a multifaceted and not necessarily logical problem. Frankensteins monster, for example, lacks a name (in this book it takes on the title of Creecher, or so Billy discerns from his companions mumbling of creature). The importance of naming for legitimisation, identity and monitoring is something that has been postulated and experimented with a good deal over the years: namelessness quickly defers subhuman status to an individual or group of people, and then accords additional problems such as the assigning of gender (Creecher becomes an it in Billys mind).

But humanity is not just about names. Its a whole mess of things that Billy and Creecher spend the book exploring, each with his own ingrained prejudices. It seems, though, that no matter how Creecher endeavours to humanise himself, his efforts fall short. Being human, it seems, is something that one just is, rather than something one can become: Billy notes at one point with disgust that Creecher has no navel, and this is something that highlights his inhuman entry into the world. And, indeed, it seems that Creechers physicalityhe is a man of giant size, with something not quite right in his countenance, in his carriage, or his gesturesis a key element in setting him apart from others.

His appearance, of course, precedes everything else, so no matter his efforts to become someone worthy, he will always be othered. Creecher speaks French, a learned language, while Billy speaks non-standard English, and yet Billy is more human than Creecher. Creecher is a bibliophile, seeking to teach himself of human emotions such as love by working through the literary canon, while Billy pooh-poohs the notion of reading. Creecher is sympathetic and thoughtful, endeavouring to help others and eschewing violence to the point of both pacifism and veganism. Billy, on the other hand, has no qualms about stealing, lying or resorting to violence.

But perhaps what stands most in the way of Creechers humanity is the fact that he is trying so very hard to be human. Where Billy is at ease when called all sorts of foul things or when treated poorly, Creecher takes such things as an affront, and this indicates that he himself is not yet accepting of his own humanity, that its a construct that he is attempting to build just as Frankenstein set about building Creechers physical form. And yet, Creecher is intent on having Frankenstein create a mate for him. The very idea seems almost unfathomable given Creechers pacifist, removed stance: creating a mate requires not only the mutilation of the dead, which in itself can be seen as a violent and sacrilegious act, but also the bringing into the world of another who will have to suffer through the exact same woes as Creecher. Its a painfully selfish act (although one could argue that selfishness is at the heart of being human), and one has to wonder at Creechers motives. Does he hope that having someone with which to share his existential agony will help lessen it? Does having another like him prove that he is not an anomaly, but rather a new type of being thats legitimate in its own right?

Mister Creecher, though not executed as well as Id hoped, raises a number of fascinating questions, and this, combined with its tie-in to Frankenstein'and Dickenss Oliver Twist'(I wont give that one away), makes for an intriguing read.

Rating: star Book Review: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestleystar Book Review: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestleystar Book Review: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestleyblankstar Book Review: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestleyblankstar Book Review: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley (good)

With thanks to Bloomsbury Australia for the review copy

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Other books by Chris Priestley:

 Book Review: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley Book Review: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley Book Review: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley Book Review: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley Book Review: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley

 Book Review: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley


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  1. Maegan /

    Im so excited to have and read the full content of these book mister creecher. Im pretty sure that this is really beautiful!

  2. That was an AMAZING review! I love what you said about names giving legitimization, and the thing about Creechers gender! I feel a little bit smarter now, haha. :D

  3. Stephanie /

    Thanks for your lovely words, Anastasia! Im glad you liked the review. :)

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