In light of the recent celebration of Robert Louis Stevenson day, The Student takes a look at Anthony O’Neill’s sequel Dr Jekyll & Mr Seek. Over 130 years after the original was published, O’Neill’s sequel jumps right back into the aftermath of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde’s action. Set seven years after Mr Hyde’s death, the follow up text shadows Dr Jekyll’s lawyer, Mr Gabriel Utterson, who is baffled when the apparent Dr Henry Jekyll returns to claim his estate weeks before Utterson’s inheriting.
O’Neill’s opening returns to the bleak, smoggy setting of industrialised London that so characterises Stevenson’s original novella. Combined with dated dialogue and more archaic descriptions, O’Neill successfully transports his reader back to the immediacy of the nation’s capital in the late 1800s to seamlessly resume continuity of plot.
Wisely, O’Neill adopts a faster paced style to create a contrasting dynamic narrative that does not attempt to compete with Stevenson’s literary feat. Short chapters build excitement and anticipation over O’Neill’s ingenious plot that sees Mr Utterson teetering on the verge of insanity as he desperately tries to prove the legitimacy of his seemingly imaginative suspicions.
O’Neill weaves the motif of duality of personality – a revival of the theme that originally popularised Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – through the sequel. By following the third person narrative of Utterson, the reader is confined to his increasingly questionable point of view; the mystery of the plot deepens as a result of the limitations of his biased outlook. Aligned with the frantic lawyer, O’Neill gradually reveals the proximity of danger as he plays with the Gothic trend of an unreliable narrator to blur reality and fantasy in terrifying fashion.
Unfortunately, Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek has an inexcusably frustrating ending that, perhaps in attempting to mimic Gothic ambiguity, fails to draw a clarifying conclusion, instead leaving the reader dumbfounded at its lack of resolution. The absence of any cliff-hanger or implied continuation of plot, as seen in traditional Gothic works such as Frankenstein, where the terrorising creature jumps ship into the possibility of the real world, renders the ending entirely anticlimactic and abrupt.
What is truly ambiguous, however, is O’Neill’s ambition for any summative conclusion whatsoever. Perhaps afraid of corrupting the truth in the events of Stevenson’s original, O’Neill seems unable to decide upon a satisfactory ending and instead cowardly abandons responsibility for any dramatic conclusion.An extremely disappointing finish to a novel that had the potential for greatness: it cannot be denied that O’Neill betrays his readers with an unsatisfactory finale that, which extinguishes the mystery and drama of the main narrative body.
It is truly baffling that O’Neill’s efforts in crafting a fun, effective novel that acts as a spin off of Stevenson’s original masterpiece are entirely negated by a lack of an imaginative conclusion that Gothic mystery demands.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek by Anthony O’Neill.
(Published by Black and White Publishing)
Image credit Holly Thomas.