By Daniel Levine

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24, 416 pages)

Who is this author?

Daniel Levine grew up in New Jersey, but now lives in Colorado. He received his BA from Brown University and his MFA from the University of Florida and has taught at various colleges. “Hyde” is his debut novel.

What is this book about?

One sign of a classic is that it can be manipulated, turned inside out, told backwards or played with in many ways without losing its power and appeal. In “Hyde,” Daniel Levine takes the iconic Robert Louis Stevenson tale of split personality and tells it from the point of view of the monstrous Mr. Hyde, and darned if we don’t sympathize with this avatar of evil. Maybe Hyde is not the murderer we think we know him to be. Maybe Dr. Jekyll should never have begun his experiment. Maybe there is another character of whom we should be suspicious.  In any case, it is intriguing to contemplate a new twist to this old story.

Why you’ll like it:

Coming up with a new version of an old tale is only half the battle for an author. Carrying out your idea in a believable and compelling fashion is the other, and it’s far more important. By all accounts, Levine has done both things with aplomb, reminding readers of what the original “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was all about (hint: it was far deeper than just being a horror story) and offering a fresh perspective that illuminates the old story in new ways. This could be just the  chiller for those hot summer reading days.

What others are saying:

Booklist says: “Imagine that Edward Hyde, the alter ego of Dr. Jekyll, wasn’t the animalistic creature Robert Louis Stevenson created. Imagine, instead, that he was just a man and a misunderstood one at that. That’s Levine’s approach to this revisionist take on Stevenson’s classic tale, which is reprinted here, after Levine’s own story has come to a close. Levine’s version, narrated by Hyde, begins just before Stevenson’s ends: Hyde is concealed in Jekyll’s laboratory, Jekyll’s letter to his lawyer awaits discovery, Hyde waits to die. Hyde takes us back through the preceding months, covering the same ground as Stevenson but from a new perspective: Hyde as a newborn man, struggling to understand the world he’s been thrust into, driven by desperation to commit the acts recounted by Stevenson. We realize, in the process, how little Stevenson really explored Edward Hyde, how Hyde was a function of the narrative, an idea but not a fleshed-out man. Giving him flesh and humanity, Levine makes him a kind of tragic hero and gives the original version an added dramatic and emotional dimension. A fascinating companion piece to a classic story.”

Says BookPage: “…Taking the parameters of Stevenson’s story, but deepening and extending the details, Levine allows us to view Hyde not merely as the venal incarnation of Jekyll’s soul, but as a fully fledged character in his own right…Levine answers many questions that Stevenson left unexplored….a visually dark and viscerally brooding tale that avails itself of a cinematic style of storytelling that, of course, Stevenson could never have imagined….an entertaining and intriguing work, as much a meditation on and extrapolation of Stevenson’s original intentions as a freestanding work of popular fiction. With compelling intensity, Levine makes a noteworthy literary debut.”

Library Journal says: “It’s Mr. Hyde’s turn as unreliable narrator in this literary reimagining of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Accused of murder and sexual trafficking of minors, Hyde has hidden himself in Jekyll’s closet. As he awaits discovery he unfurls a tale that sheds doubt on Jekyll’s innocence—but does it absolve Hyde? Levine’s palette includes every shade of gray as he explores moral ambiguity and mental anguish in this psychological gothic. VERDICT Levine’s debut novel is deviously plotted but relies a great deal on readers having a close familiarity with the parent text, while the anachronistically graphic descriptions of sex and violence may be off-putting for some. On the other hand, readers who enjoy the grittier crime fiction of Dennis Lehane, James Ellroy, and John Connolly might give it a try.”

In The New York Times Book Review, Walter Kirn says: “Hyde is the first-time novelist Daniel Levine’s ingenious revision of this canonical work, an elevated exercise in fan fiction that complicates and reorients the story by telling it from the perspective of the monster, exposing the tender heart inside the brute and emphasizing the pathos of his predicament…The novel is a pleasure…a worthy companion to its predecessor. It’s rich in gloomy, moody atmosphere (Levine’s London has a brutal steampunk quality), and its narrator’s plight is genuinely poignant.”

In its starred review, Publishers Weekly says: “. . . this ambitious first novel provides an alternate perspective on Jekyll’s chemical experiments on the split personality. Edward Hyde first emerges independent of Jekyll on the streets of London in 1884—not as the malevolent brute that Stevenson conjured, but as a member of the lower classes who is fiercely protective of his and Hyde’s friends and interests. But over the course of two years, Hyde develops a reputation for evil that confounds him—and that he suspects is being engineered by Jekyll, whose consciousness lurks inside his own, steering him into certain assignations and possibly committing atrocities while in his form. Levine slowly unfolds the backstory of Jekyll’s schemes for Hyde, relating to his earlier failed “treatment” of a patient with a multiple-personality disorder, and traumatic events from Jekyll’s own childhood that come to light in the novel’s tragic denouement. Levine’s evocation of Victorian England is marvelously authentic, and his skill at grounding his narrative in arresting descriptive images is masterful (of the haggard, emotionally troubled Jekyll, he writes, “He looked as if he’d survived an Arctic winter locked within a ship frozen fast in the wastes”). If this exceptional variation on a classic has any drawback, it’s that it particularizes to a single character a malaise that Stevenson originally presented belonging universally to the human condition.”

“Levine’s account is a masterpiece of hallucination; his narrator is feverish, righteous, intense. The author knows what to invent and what to leave to the master. And about that confession: Hyde doesn’t open it, and neither does Levine. He leaves it to Stevenson, to whom he is faithful with his prose. The shockers may be born of this century, but this chilling new version is a remarkably good fit with the original horror classic,” says The Miami Herald.

When is it available?

This book is not hiding in the shadows. You can get it at the Downtown Hartford Public Library or its Albany or Dwight branches.

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