Monday, October 3, 2016

The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello

When Rafe finds a broken down trunk in the river, he has no idea that it will reveal the answer to a mystery which captivated the world for a long time - the identity of the infamous Jack the Ripper.  Rafe finds a journal belonging to the author Robert Louis Stevenson and learns that this is one story Stevenson's little brownies didn't simply deliver to him in his dreams one night.  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, may have captivated London and all the world with its release but it's nothing in comparison to the truth which has so long been buried.

The first 25% of The Jekyll Revelation  is slow moving and so boring that watching paint drying might well be better entertainment.  Were it not for my commitment to read 30% of a book before bestowing a DNF status, I would not have finished The Jekyll Revelation. When The Jekyll Revelation slowly starts to pick up steam, it's not a bad book per-say, just overly long and somewhat distracted. Part of the problem is that The Jekyll Revelation is divided between Stevenson's diary and Rafe's story in the present day.  It is almost like reading two different books because the connections between the two men are tenuous at best.  Masello would have been much better served to simply stick with Stevenson's story because there is no need for a present day connection. In fact, cutting out Rafe's story altogether would have made the book much more concise and far more interesting.

Unfortunately, cutting out Rafe would remove a major character of colour.  The Jekyll Revelation is yet another in a long line of examples in which we find that for some reasons authors believe that the London of the 1800's was homogeneous and white.  To be clear, London or more specifically England, was at the zenith of its power at that time and most certainly meant that people of colour from all the various colonies resided there.  There's absolutely no reason why Masello couldn't have included a man or woman of colour in the past beyond the Native Samoans, who he painted without any nuance and full of wonder for the white men in their midst.  There is also the uncomfortable juxtaposition between the prostitutes slayed by Jack the Ripper and a Samoan woman whose brutalized body is found on the beach.

There is also Fanny, Stevenson's wife, who is described as having "tawny skin".  At times, Fanny reads as a typical White English woman of her time and at others a person of colour.  At this point, I'm not exactly sure what Fanny is but I am however bothered by the following quote:
She was planting some vegetables now. bent over, her hands in the dirt and her skirts tied back to be out of the way.  With her black hair and tawny skin, it was not hard to imagine her as a squaw in some Indian village; I know that was how Henley saw her. 
I suppose one could reasonably argue that "squaw" used in this fashion is a matter of how people spoke back then about Indigenous women; however, that doesn't make the slur anymore acceptable. Because this is the private thoughts of Stevenson, there's no push back against the racist slur and it stands as though such language isn't dehumanizing and problematic.

In terms of gender, there are two female characters of note: Fanny and Miranda. Every time a character questions Fanny's constitution, Stevenson is quick to assert her strength and her ability to simply move forward.  Stevenson in fact makes it clear that Fanny is his source of strength and necessary to his survival. I do however wish that Masello had bothered to show Fanny being awesome rather than telling us repeatedly that she's awesome.

Miranda largely functions as a love interest to Rafe.  Her entire story is about the fact that she is an heiress who has turned her back on her wealthy family in order to live a bohemian lifestyle.  This of course comes with a ne'er-do-well boyfriend to put a wrench in Rafe's growing interest in Miranda. Miranda may be an artist who runs her own store but the entire purpose of her story line is to be a love interest for Rafe.  Miranda seems to spend her time questioning why she is in a romantic relationship with Lazlo more than anything else.

In terms of minor characters, we have Constance Wooldridge, who becomes the obsession of Lloyd, the son of Fanny.  Constance exists solely as a victim.  Constance is stalked relentlessly by Lloyd and her boundaries are never accepted.  Stevenson manages to show up in time to stop Constance from being raped by Lloyd but she never gets any kind of justice because of fear for her reputation. We don't learn anything about her beyond her abortion and her unfortunate position as the woman Lloyd chooses to stalk and intimidate.  She exists solely to be a victim.

Finally, we come to Lucy, Rafe's disabled sister.  Rafe blames himself for Lucy's mental disability because he left her alone for a few minutes and when he returned she was floating face down in the pool.  To that end, Rafe attempts to take care of Lucy but he clearly views her as a child.  As much as Rafe loves Lucy, he also sees her as an albatross around his neck because any woman he engages in a relationship with would also have to agree to a care taking role of Lucy.   It's great to see a disabled character, particularly because people living with disabilities are often excluded from popular culture but Lucy is another character who doesn't get any real development.  We know that Lucy really wants to live with Rafe and will manipulate situations to make this apparent but beyond that we don't really know her as a person.  What we see repeatedly is the disability and not the person.

As aforementioned, Rafe is the sole character of colour of any prominence.  We know what he does for a living, that he grew up in an institution, that he cares for his younger sister and of course has feelings for Miranda.  Rafe essentially filled the role of every man because of his disconnection to any kind of racialized identity. I am quite convinced that the reason Rafe has no parents in the picture is to help explain his lack of culturation to his ethnic background.  Having a major character of colour is great; however, having said character of colour have no connection to his own identity beyond his name is problematic and therefore does not constitute good inclusion.

In terms of LGBT characters The Jekyll Revelation is completely erased. There is absolutely no excuse for this erasure.

I really struggled to make my way through The Jekyll Revelation because of slow pacing. Even when the story did in fact pick up, a disconnect continued because of time shift between Rafe's experiences and that of Stevenson; it is a writers device which didn't serve this story very well at all.  Written as a straight up horror loosely based on the life and times of Stevenson, The Jekyll Revelation would have been a far more compelling read.  While I found myself liking Stevenson, particularly his thoughts on the duality of humanity, along with his somewhat rejection of Victorian sexual mores, it simply wasn't enough to overcome the various problems with this novel.  The Jekyll Revelation is best saved for a night of insomnia, when counting sheep just isn't putting you to sleep fast enough.

Editor's Note: A copy of this book was received from the publisher via Netgalley for review.