2022 Reading Challenge

2022 Reading Challenge
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Book Review and Interview: The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello

image001 So I have a few bits to share with you on this one. First, my review – which is, I must admit, not the warmest I’ve ever written… Nevertheless, there were enough redeeming qualities to the writing that I felt compelled to share some author interview questions and answers because I think they’re insightful and address the parts of the book that I really enjoyed – namely, the historical elements. Judge the whole book for yourself; regardless of how you feel about its entirety, the author’s perspective is interesting in itself, I think.

I was very intrigued by the concept of this book – I really enjoy Robert Louis Stevenson, and Jekyll/Hyde is one of my favorite of his stories… This book started out well, but devolved rather quickly into a bit of a jumble for me. I found the back-and-forth in time/storyline to be less of a connection between past/future than a confusion.

The contemporary Topanga Canyon/Rafael storyline just did not hold my interest the way the RLS one did. There was nothing wrong with Rafael as a character, I just didn’t ever feel like he connected with the other storyline – his story seemed independent and unrelated for much of the book, then suddenly – BAM! – connection… And even then it felt somewhat tenuous at best. There also seemed to be a continuity issue – without giving a spoiler, one minute Rafael has no idea what he has found and then suddenly without any explanation he makes the RLS connection, then some number of pages/chapters later, he explains coming to that connection. It is the only such issue, but for me was emblematic of the challenges I found in connecting the two stories…

That said, I quite enjoyed the RLS sections of the book, particularly the “back story” leading up to his creation of the Jekyll/Hyde story. I did have one rather major issue with exactly how his “treatment” led to the story idea – without giving any spoilers it’s hard to explain what I mean, but suffice to say that it felt like a tenuous exceedingly bare-bones explanation of what is basically the point of the entire construct… (I’m happy to explain if anyone reading this is confused by what I meant – I’d have to give too many spoilers to do it here, but if you have questions contact me!)

All in all this felt like a great idea, unevenly presented., which is unfortunate… I have another of the author’s books on my kindle thanks to a giveaway day; I like his concepts enough to give it a try – hopefully it’ll feel a little more tied together.

Interview with the Author
Q: THE JEKYLL REVELATION was inspired by the coincidental timing of two Victorian London events—the staging of the play, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Jack the Ripper’s first strike. Both events jolted society, one with a fictional struggle of good and evil, the other with the brutal reality of murder and mayhem. Do you agree with the play’s lead character, who believes that “beneath a man’s respectable exterior lurks a darker and more sinister side, aching to break its chains?”
A: I do believe that everyone is a mixture of good and bad, to one degree or another. If I didn’t believe that, I’d have no friends. Everyone has flaws (including, I’m told me!). What I did find interesting about Stevenson’s characterization of Mr. Hyde was that he refused to make him a mere libertine. In Stevenson’s eyes, there was no greater hypocrisy than the notion that a man’s lust for a woman was somehow sinful by its very nature. Brought up by a rather strict and religious father, he rebelled against traditional notions of sin, and instead emphasized such things as cruelty and deliberate malice as the evils inherent in human nature and in need of extirpation.

Q: Later in his life, Robert Louis Stevenson lived and worked in the South Pacific, where he became known on his home island of Samoa as “Tusitala,” teller of tales. In THE JEKYLL REVELATION, you credit the origin of this moniker to Stevenson’s short story, The Bottle Imp, about a demon that would give its owner anything he desired in return for his soul. Discuss the similarities with Stevenson’s character in the book, who cedes control to Dr. Ruedi in a desperate search for a cure, knowing it was either a “great bargain or a deal with the devil.”
A: Like many a chronic invalid, Stevenson spent much of his life in a desperate search for a doctor, a climate, a cure, for his infirmities. He knew all about making deals with the devil. Moreover, his quest caused him to dwell on issues of mortality from an early age and throughout his life, in a way most men do not. It shows up in many of his spooky stories – “Thrawn Janet” would be a well-known masterpiece, if it weren’t written in an almost impenetrable Scottish dialect – and even in his verses. He was always working against the clock, as it were, and using up every ounce of energy he had. Critics often complained that his novels ran out of steam toward the end, and it’s possible that the fever of composition did abate somewhat, leaving him to struggle toward the climax. In my book, Fanny takes those critics to task.

Q: THE JEKYLL REVELATION is proof that truth really is stranger than fiction. You’ve said that 90% of the historical references in your books are true, but that “history and fiction get all tangled up” as you bend events, chronologies, and even family relationships to tell a story. Which parts of THE JEKYLL REVELATION are gospel, and which are poetic license?
A: The overall arc of Stevenson’s career and life is true, by and large, but I’ve done a lot of embroidering around the edges – he didn’t have a house in London on Cavendish Square, for instance, and he certainly didn’t receive a magic elixir made from wolf’s blood from Dr. Ruedi in Davos. That doctor and the Davos clinic did, however, exist. The dates of the murders committed by Jack the Ripper are accurate, but scenes like the one in which the detective parades Stevenson in front of possible witnesses I made up out of whole cloth. At times, and looking back after a spell away from the book, it becomes difficult even for me to remember what was drawn from my research and what was cooked up. My goal in respect to the reader is to weave it all together into a single tapestry where the made-up strands are indistinguishable from the real ones. As I warn readers all the time, don’t write your term paper based on anything you read in one of my books! Research it yourself first!

Q: Robert Louis Stevenson’s letters reveal that his stories and ideas often came to him through his “Brownies,” a troop of tiny imaginary creatures he envisioned while he slept. They plotted at night, and if they’d done their job, Stevenson would write in the morning. What inspires your work?
A: I wish I could say that I had my own little Brownies to deploy each night. What inspires my work is hard to say – but it’s sometimes a strange coincidence or confluence of events. In THE JEKYLL REVELATION, it was the opening of the play and the emergence of Jack the Ripper. In THE ROMANOV CROSS, it was the simultaneous fall of the Russian dynasty and the epidemic of the Spanish flu – which I then joined to a current headline about the melting of the permafrost in Alaska, where victims of the Spanish flu were buried (but not very deep in the soil). In THE MEDUSA AMULET, it was something else: my fondness for a book I had read in my youth, the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, whose sculptures I came to adore. The autobiography ends rather abruptly, and I often wondered what else he might have written, had he continued. So I did it myself. BLOOD AND ICE was inspired by all the horror movies I loved as a kid, from The Thing to Dracula. In that case, I saw the opening scene in my mind very clearly, and wanted to write it. Then it was just a question of what happened next (which turned out to be a lot). In all cases, what I do know is that I keep ruminating and letting my mind run free until something, however strange or small, really seems to take hold and grow. I just wish it would happen more often and on some kind of predictable schedule. Where do I register my complaint?

robertmasello_authorphotoROBERT MASELLO is an award-winning journalist, television writer, and bestselling author of many novels and nonfiction books. His most recent novels, published in more than a dozen languages, include the #1 Kindle bestselling The Einstein Prophecy, The Romanov Cross, The Medusa Amulet, and Blood and Ice. His guide to composition, Robert’s Rules of Writing, has been adopted in many college classrooms. His articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in prominent publications such as the Los Angeles Times, New York magazine, People, Newsday, and the Washington Post. A long-standing member of the Writers Guild of America, he has taught and lectured at colleges and universities nationwide, including the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He also served as visiting lecturer in literature at Claremont McKenna College for six years. A native of Evanston, Illinois, Masello now lives and works in Santa Monica, California.For more information on Robert Masello, visit his website.

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