A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde by Kevin MacNeil

DATE FINISHED: October 2nd, 2011             

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Robert (Lewis) is in a bad way after a cycling accident, but he is determined that it will not affect his casting in the lead role(s) of a new production based on Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  But it seems he must prove his worth over a new actor who has been brought in to play the same role(s) not to mention win back his erstwhile ‘girlfriend’ Juliette.  In fact, none of the cast or crew seem to fully appreciate either Robert’s bravery/tenacity in the face of his post-accident pain, or indeed his immense talent.  And somehow, everything in his life seems to be sliding dramatically from bad to worse…

THOUGHTS:  The bulk of the story is told by Robert, so given the aftermath of the accident, combined with the subject of the play, the logical reader expects some kind of Jekyll & Hyde manifestation within his character.  To his credit, MacNeil does not choose the obvious route, and diverts the storyline in an unexpectedly Zen direction, when a second character takes over the narrative towards the end of the novel and sheds new light on all that has been read so far.

As you might expect, the story explores a lot about the duality of nature, the masks actors wear and why, and the degree to which everybody acts/lies in their day-to-day ‘being’.  Given that the main cast are actors, a lot of the metaphor falls in this direction.  Robert is an archetypal misfit who garners empathy (in the reader) through his self-delusion with regard to the image he projects; and MacNeil successfully translates this trajectory into an alternative perspective when the ending reveals the truth.  It was a clever and enjoyable read if not quite as clever and enjoyable as I had dared to hope…

FOLLOWING ON:  The story covers some similar ground to The Confessions of Edward Day by Valerie Martin, and although it is more likeable, I felt that Martin probed deeper and left me with more to mull over.  A similarly unreliable narrator can be found in A Cruel Madness by Colin Thubron.  But if the Jekyll & Hyde theme appeals to you, some interesting re-workings can be found in Mary Reilly by (oh!) Valerie Martin, Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson and also Stevenson Under the Palm Trees by Alberto Manguel.  Try My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey for an interesting excursion into meta-fiction.

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