We all know the basic gist of this story, right? I mean, probably literally everyone on the planet has heard it, watched it, read it, and knows about it. So I think I can just skip the description and hop right to the review, yeah?
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Originally published in 1886. I listened to the audiobook by Recorded Books, Inc. published March 1980. Narrated by Alexander Spencer. 3 hours and 6 mins. Read for the October 2019 pick for IRL book club.
I had never actually read the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde before, but I had seen plenty of movies and parodies / homages over the years. Me and the “classics” of the book world- especially the Victorian era- don’t… always…. see eye to eye. By that I mean I normally find them more on the overrated side then the greatest novel ever side. So I was very wary about reading this one. I really liked Stevenson’s Treasure Island, so I was more willing to give this one a try.
I tried. I really, REALLY, tried to like this one. D: I just couldn’t. There were just so many things that bothered me about it.
Hey, I get it. I do. The premise does a great job of showing the two sides of a person, the good vs. the bad, that are constantly at war. And it does a great job of showing how people have a public face and a private face. In public you are supposed to act a certain way, be “normal” and nice, do the “right” thing. And that society puts pressures on you to fit in with everyone else and if you are too “weird” you don’t fit in and others judge you as bad or incorrect or whatever. So you ball up your freak flag and shove it way on down there and keep it in the dark and try to pass for “normal”, be polite, say the correct things. Got it. The book gets a gold star for nailing that, especially in the Victorian era when that idea was probably pretty scandalous to even speak out loud. So that really is a great thing about this book.
My problem is not with the premise, or the ideas behind the plot. My problem is that this story was boring AF!! We hardly even get SEE anything for ourselves! A majority of this story is from second hand witnesses talking about what they saw one day. It was basically like “Oh, have you heard of that fellow Mr. Hyde? Well a friend of a friend’s brother’s maid said she saw him kill some one over there on that corner.” “Oh? You don’t say? My, my. Well, let’s carry on with our leisurely stroll down the sidewalk.” Seriously? Practically the whole book was either like this, or it was the main character reading a letter that related a story about Mr. Hyde. Wow. That’s exciting. I love just reading about the main character calmly reading a letter for 5 pages.
I don’t know. This was a novella, right, but it felt way too drawn out to the point of getting tedious and repetitive feeling. There was a lot of philosophical prose and inner analyzing that just felt like it just went on and on and ON. Yes, you are talking about the inner struggles of the duality of man, but how about have it sound more like a story and less like a college textbook on ethics?
Then, we get to the end. So anti-climatic AND…. it’s another freaking letter!! A letter that basically sums up the entire story (again) in just a few pages and then tells us what Jekyll was going through. At least the reveal about Mr. Hyde was good. It just felt like, for such a short story, that were was a lot of filler going on.
This book left me pondering questions about myself. Am I too desensitized to violence that I didn’t like this book because of the lack of action and violence that I was expecting from an “evil” man or was it LEGIT boring and anticlimatic? Am I too far down the rabbit hole of horror, freaks, violence and gore that I couldn’t understand just how bad Mr. Hyde was? Yeah, ok, he trampled a little girl with very little remorse, and he did beat that guy to death. Yep, those are pretty messed up things to do… but, I don’t know. *Shrug* I guess I was just expecting so much MORE from the infamous Mr. Hyde, that I kinda ended up feeling disappointed that that was pretty much all he did. Do I hang out with too many monsters roaming in my head that I just didn’t get what was wrong with how Mr. Hyde looked? The author was kinda vague, basically just saying Hyde is short (HA!!! I personally found that hilarious because most of the time the character is portrayed as a big hulking brute!) and has a deformed face but nobody can really put their finger on what is deformed about it. I don’t know, man… Again, I guess I was just expecting… more.
Is it just me, or was this book not very good? Is my opinion because of the society and era I live in currently or was this book truly lacking in a lot of ways? I’ve never felt such a disconnect from any of the other Victorian era books I’ve read. Granted, I don’t read many of them, but I read a handful of authors from that time period… Poe, H. G. Wells, H. P. Lovecraft, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I love reading old pulps and penny dreadful from back in the day. I even had more fun reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and I don’t even like vampires OR Dracula! *shrug*
The characters in Stevenson’s other books are so vibrant and alive with descriptions that just put you right there in the scene with them. Hell, you can basically smell the B.O. from Long John Silver in Treasure Island! But Jekyll and Hyde… they felt so…. vanilla. So lacking. They felt too far in the background to really get a sense of their true personalities. Like this book was watered down with too many side characters standing in the front instead of the two people who should have been the main characters in the first place! Felt more frustrating then suspenseful.
I had an older audiobook from the library. The narrator was Alexander Spencer. He actually did a decent job. I didn’t particular love his performance, but I do feel he nailed the stuffy reserved Victorian feel. It definitely felt like the narrator fit this story pretty well.
The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde had a great premise with a boring execution. Just felt lackluster. I didn’t really care for all the second hand witness reports or all the letter reading of the events instead of getting to see the events first hand. Not a horrible book, but kinda meh.