ORKNEY ISLANDS, 1797 – Agnes Tulloch feels a little cheated. This windswept place is not the island paradise her husband promised it to be when they wed. Now with four young children, she struggles to provide for her family while her husband grows increasingly distant.
When a stranger comes ashore to rent an abandoned cottage, Agnes and the other islanders are abuzz with curiosity. Who is this wealthy foreigner and why on earth would he come to Eynhallow? Her curiosity is soon replaced with vexation when her husband hires her out as cook and washerwoman, leaving Agnes with no say in the matter. Agnes begrudgingly befriends this aristocrat-in-exile; a mercurial scientist who toils night and day on some secret pursuit. Despite herself, she’s drawn to his dark, brooding charm. And who is this Byronic stranger sweeping Agnes off her feet? His name is Frankenstein and he’s come to this remote isle to fulfill a monstrous obligation.
First and foremost, a big thank you to NetGalley and Raw Dog Screaming Press for the eARC!
While there has been a significant amount of time since I’ve read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (approximately 7-8 years), Tim McGregor’s Eynhallow manages to capture some of the same magic of its basis. A retelling of the modern Prometheus of horror (or the Bride of Frankenstein depending on how you look at it), McGregor’s novel is focused on a unique perspective, one of Agnes Tulloch, a housewife living on the remote Eynhallow island in 1797. Stating that conditions for women were bleak at that time would be a very underwhelming fact; by her late twenties, Anges spends her days caring for her four children, attempting to keep the peace with her oaf of a husband, and doing her best to provide for her family in such a remote location. Agnes is already deemed an outsider for multiple reasons since she is not a native islander and, more obviously, due to her large physical stature. While Agnes’ worldview is limited, all that she knows will be irrevocably changed by the arrival of a newcomer to the small island, Victor Frankenstein.
I would argue that McGregor takes a big swing here, writing a Frankenstein retelling from the feminine perspective, and I would also argue that the result is ultimately a homerun. From the very first few passages of this novella, Agnes is established as a well thought-out and layered woman, one who wishes for more beyond the standards of what she is given. I found myself growing to care for her quite a bit in such a short span of time, feeling angry for every transgression caused by her husband or the other island dwellers. More to the point, I wanted more for Agnes than the life she led, which seemed to align with her own desires, for better or worse.
The island itself generates a feeling of “otherness” with only a few families inhabiting its grounds. This seclusion is ironically inclusive, as the natives of the island hold deeply negative feelings towards outsiders, such as Frankenstein and Agnes. In this own “other” way, they spark a friendship of sorts after Agnes’ husband hires her out to cook and clean for Victor. This kinship is something that tumbles into something much more sinister once the reasons behind Victor’s arrival become clear.
Perhaps the most notable characteristic of Agnes’ story is that of tragedy. McGregor had me in the palm of his hand, hoping against all hope that things would take a turn for the better for Agnes despite my knowledge of the tale of Frankenstein and how the Orkney Islands fit into this very story. Suffice it to say, the conclusion of Eynhallow is one of devastating proportions. While the classic horror aspects are saved for the later part of this novella, the creeping dread seems to grow with each page as life on Eynhallow becomes bleaker. This claustrophobic atmosphere and elusive sense of terror lends itself to Agnes’ desperation to flee the island and her abusive husband using whatever means possible. Once the bloodshed starts, the horror becomes unrelenting with not an ounce of hope in sight.
Tim McGregor’s revisitation of Frankenstein with his novella, Eynhallow, oozes with Gothic dread and catastrophic conclusions only made possible by the strength of his main character, Agnes Tulloch. The proverbial perfect storm is created when two outsiders find common ground, a seemingly harmless instance. Yet in the hands of seclusion and scientific madness, terror thrives on the island of Eynhallow.
Eynhallow by Tim McGregor releases on February 22, 2024 by Raw Dog Screaming Press.