Sunday, April 16, 2017

Book Review: Hyde by Daniel Levine (2014)

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Hyde is a retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the perspective of Edward Hyde.  Except “retelling” isn’t the right word; “rewriting” would be more accurate.  Levine keeps only the barest skeleton of plot from Stevenson’s original, dismissing Jekyll’s own account of events as “lies” and reinventing major characters wholesale, including Hyde himself.  In the process, he turns Stevenson’s spare but acute examination of the nature of morality—which left most details to the reader’s imagination—into a lurid saga of child abuse, bizarre forms of self-denial, and dissociative identity disorder.

Even if I didn’t hold Stevenson’s work close to my heart, it would be difficult to judge Levine’s new version without comparison, particularly when his Hyde attacks the original directly as “abstruse and misleading nonsense.”  That said, Hyde is, on its own, an entertaining read; it keeps the pages turning.  And Levine deserves credit for his skillful blend of 19th and 21st century styles, which feels simultaneously modern and classic.

On the balance, however, Hyde seems in search of an audience that doesn’t exist.  Those readers not well familiar with The Strange Case will miss the significance of many of Hyde’s twists and much of its commentary, while fans of Stevenson’s novella may suspect that Levine is trying, without success, to improve upon it.  If you enjoy modern takes on classic stories, look instead for any of Gregory Maguire’s brilliant and imaginative work, and leave Hyde to his brooding on the shelf. 

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