The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Friday, May 30, 2014

"Hyde" and Seek

Walter Kirn's review of Daniel Levine's new novel, Hyde came out just as I ran across the book at The Mysterious Bookshop, and certainly vindicates my decision to buy a copy:
Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is an oblique and artful Gothic tale framed as a detective story. The truth seeker is Jekyll’s lawyer, Utterson, the book’s most prominent character. Jekyll — the ­gentleman who dabbles in chemical self-­transformation — appears only ­intermittently, never fully speaking for himself until the end, when he discloses the details of the disastrous experiments that unleashed his primitive alter ego. The novel isn’t a conventional horror story, lingering on the macabre for its own sake, but an allegory of the divided self, perhaps also a meditation on addiction. Stevenson dramatizes human duality but doesn’t analyze its causes, treating it as pervasive and fundamental. For him, the Jekyll-Hyde split is the split in all of us, between the animals we evolved from and the angels we aspire to be.

“Hyde” is the first-time novelist Daniel Levine’s ingenious revision of this canonical work, an elevated exercise in fan fiction that complicates and reorients the story by telling it from the perspective of the monster, exposing the tender heart inside the brute and emphasizing the pathos of his predicament. Hyde is an outlet for Jekyll’s buried lusts, a manifestation of his banished id, but he is also a person in his own right who longs for acknowledgment and recognition. Far from being the accidental product of Jekyll’s experimental potion, he’s an integral, abiding second self who first emerged during Jekyll’s painful childhood as a defense against severe abuse and then went dormant inside him for decades, until the medicine reawakened him. While Stevenson casts Hyde as purely evil, a creature without a conscience, Levine — by placing him center stage and awarding him a full measure of humanity — portrays him as a wounded innocent, scorned, bewildered and oppressed. He dwells like a squatter in the body that he and Jekyll share, an illegal lodger, without rights.
An interesting notion, and I look forward to reading Levine's execution of the notion.

There's some overlap, certainly, with Steven Moffatt's remarkable sequel to Stevenson's work,Jekyll, in which the duality was always latent, and is a genetic feature of the original Jekyll/Hyde bloodline.

In Moffatt's telling, the modern day Tom Jackman and his alter ego--both superbly realized by actor James Nesbitt--come together when Jackman's wife and children--whom Hyde feels bonded too as well--are kidnapped by the shadowy project that seeks to exploit Hyde:

It's interesting how the Victorians won't let us rest, isn't it? The spate of Jane Austen sequels (and I do mean a spate, including eminent author P.D. James among the writers), should perhaps give Kirn pause is describing Levine's novel as "an elevated exercise in fan fiction"; but (not to go all Mandy Rice-Davies on you), I would say that, wouldn't I? After all, my own book, Phineas at Bay, could be described the same way. I think it's that we live in the world that the Victorians created, even now, and are only beginning to emerge from their long shadows. My maternal grandfather met Theodore Roosevelt, a High Victorian if ever there was one. He lived to see me graduate college, though not law school. So their world is not so far from ours, their stories the basis of many childhoods of those not yet old. And we find their stories resonate, as we face the implications of their choices, and the world they made.

But beyond my fellow-feeling for Levine, what looks interesting about his take is that it's not (like Moffatt's) a sequel that uses the time that has lapsed since the original to create complications, and explore the humanity of the monster, but rather makes the rather Trollopean point that everybody, even the villain, has his own point of view.

I look forward to reading Levine's novel, and wish him well with it.

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