REVIEW: “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Seek” by Anthony O’Neill

dr-jekyll-and-mr-seekThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, was one of the only books given to me as assigned reading in high school that I actually enjoyed. It’s a wonderfully macabre Gothic novella that explores the duality of man within a really interesting sci-fi scenario. I enjoyed the book so much in high school that it actually led to me watching the fantastic BBC series Jekyll (a show that actually ended up being a really interesting sequel to the original story). So, naturally, when I saw that Anthony O’Neill’s Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Seek, a sequel to the original Jekyll & Hyde, I was immediately interested. The question is: how good is this book? Is it a worthy sequel to such an amazing original? The short answer is: no, not really. But it’s more complicated than that.

In this dark, atmospheric sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s timeless classic, the strange case continues with the return of Dr. Jekyll . . .

Seven years after the death of Edward Hyde, a stylish gentleman shows up in foggy London claiming to be Dr. Henry Jekyll. Only Mr. Utterson, Jekyll’s faithful lawyer and confidant, knows that he must be an impostor―because Jekyll was Hyde.

But as the man goes about charming Jekyll’s friends and reclaiming the estate, and as the bodies of potential challengers start piling up, Utterson is left fearing for his life . . . and questioning his own sanity.

This brilliantly imagined and beautifully written sequel to one of literature’s greatest masterpieces perfectly complements, as well as subverts, Stevenson’s gothic classic. And where the original was concerned with the duality of man, the sequel deals with the possibility of identity theft of the most audacious kind. Constantly threading on the blurred lines between reality and fantasy, madness and reason, self-serving delusions and brutal truths, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Seek honors the original Stevenson with a thrilling new conclusion.

I wanna make it clear that it’s not as if Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Seek is a bad book. It’s absolutely fine. And that’s its biggest problem. While the original story used its fantastical plot as a device to explore the duality of man and sought to answer deeper questions about humanity, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Seek doesn’t really do that. It tries, but I don’t think it really succeeds. Boiled down to its simplest form, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Seek is a novel about one man’s descent into madness. The only problem is that the reader can’t ever quite tell if he’s going mad or not. This problem stems from the premise of the book: someone purporting to be Dr. Jekyll has reappeared a mere two weeks before Utterson, his lawyer, would have inherited his estate. Utterson – and all who read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – know that Jekyll and Hyde were the same person, and thus when Hyde committed suicide, Jekyll also died. So, the audience spends the entire novel siding with Utterson, believing that he’s correct and that this person claiming to be Jekyll is lying. Utterson slowly loses his grip on reality as he tries to prove this to be true, but it doesn’t quite work because we know he’s right. We’re not really unsure if this imposter is Jekyll, because we already know that Jekyll is dead. Before the final chapter begins, it seems as though Utterson has finally gotten all he’s needed to prove he’s correct, and then the final chapter switches perspectives and just sort of ends without giving any actual answers to the story (I’m purposely being a bit vague as to the specifics as I don’t want to spoil it). This kind of ending would work if this book wasn’t a sequel to a different story but was its own thing. This ending works if the audience doesn’t know whether the protagonist is correct or not. But we do know, unless, of course, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Seek’s point of view is that the events, as they were told to us in the original Jekyll and Hyde, weren’t totally accurate. If that’s the case, then the book needs to make that clearer or, again, the ending doesn’t really work. As written, it’s just sort of frustrating and the deeper meaning that the novel is trying to explore doesn’t quite land.

From a writing standpoint, it’s totally competently written. The prose feels like it’s trying to evoke the prose of Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, but it never really goes any further than that. It does the job, but it’s nothing special. The pacing is mostly good, though the beginning is a little slow (also like the original Jekyll and Hyde). While having a disappointing ending, the plot is still interesting. I’m not against the general premise of the story, and the first 3/4 of the novel mostly worked for me, mainly because I expected some kind of reveal in the last 1/4 of the novel that would explain what was going on. The first 3/4 of the story feel like a mystery novel; you’re reading it, trying to piece together the mystery, and anticipating the big reveal at the end. The original Jekyll and Hyde, while being a Gothic horror novel, was a mystery. All of these mysterious things happen, revolving around Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, leading Utterson to try and piece it all together, all leading up to a climax where everything is revealed and tied together. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Seek doesn’t have a climax like that. It’s all building up to it and then it just… ends. It’s a subversion of expectations, sure, but it’s one that doesn’t work.

As a sequel to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeDr. Jekyll & Mr. Seek does feel a bit weird, mainly due to how Utterson and Poole act within the story. I understand that seven years have passed and that this book is trying to push the idea that Utterson isn’t totally together, but they just act a bit… strangely when viewed in comparison to the original novel. It’s not super distracting, but it is noticeable, at times. Then, of course, there’s the weird resolution that doesn’t seem to match up with everything we know about the original story. Honestly, this novel would be a whole lot better as its own standalone story, totally unconnected to the continuity of the original novel. It can be heavily inspired by it, sure, but it shouldn’t be a direct continuation of it. It just doesn’t work as a continuation of the story. It doesn’t have anything interesting to offer as commentary or addition to the original novel, and it just sort of ends up confusing. The first 3/4 make for an enjoyable read, and the last 1/4 isn’t bad, just disappointing. It’s nowhere near as good as it could be, but it’s also not awful. It’s a quick read and it does make for a fun read on a cold, autumn day.

3 out of 5 wands

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