The Monsters We Deserve is an act of literary criticism wrapped up as a short gothic horror novel, in which an author staying in the Alps and obsessed with his dislike of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein starts to question the line between creator and monster. It is written in a distinctive, immediate style, trying to capture a sense of the unnerving remote location and the lingering ghosts of author and character. Indeed, the atmosphere is one of its strengths, as the combination of spooky and experimental gives it a frenzied edge, making it difficult to tell what, in the context of the narrative, is real or imagined.
It is the literary criticism part that confuses it. The narrator’s hatred for Frankenstein feels at odds with the fact that the novel is likely to appeal to people with an interest in Shelley’s book, no matter how much of a plot device it is. There is also something about the way the narrator (who is framed as Sedgwick himself) directs a lot of his hatred onto Mary Shelley and her failings (to go too far into the weird dynamic here would be to give spoilers, though). Most people would be likely to agree with the importance of creation and responsibility in Frankenstein that the narrator must strive to prove is the ‘meaning’ of it, though this is at least partly framed as unaccepted.
For a book about creation and imagination, it seems very willing to give definitive views on both the novel and the historical writers it talks about. The manner in which in the novel literary criticism becomes a definite act and one centred around authorial intention must be interpreted through the lens of the metafictional elements of the book in order to see beyond the narrator’s opinionated stance. Indeed, it can feel like arguing with the narrator is the only way to engage with the idea of authors creating monsters they cannot control.
As an eerie short novel with a metafictional side, The Monsters We Deserve does pretty well. There is a lot left unsaid in between the lines, which matches up with the narrator’s reluctance to tell the full truth about his previous horror writing and with the mysterious and unexplained elements in the narrative. However, as a novel engaging with Frankenstein, it is disappointing.