Anthony O’Neill: Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek

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“He had breached – no, demolished – the fortress of identity.” (198)

Anthony O’Neill, you’ve done it again. This deserves to become a classic, right up there with the original.

Gabriel Utterson, Dr Jekyll’s lawyer, knows the secret of Jekyll’s transformation into Mr Hyde, saw Hyde/Jekyll’s dead body, and expects within a week to inherit Dr Jekyll’s estate. Jekyll has been missing for seven years and nobody else knows, as Utterson does, that he died with Hyde. Utterson has delightful plans for what he’ll do with the estate. How does he feel, then, when Dr Jekyll, or the living image of him, turns up with a story of having been wandering the world in a partly amnesic state for the past seven years? Everyone else is convinced that this really is Edward Jekyll. Utterson is convinced it isn’t. He even has a letter written by Jekyll confessing the whole horrible story of the experiment that turned him into Mr Hyde. That is, he had a letter, until he told Jekyll that he had it – and when he next looks in his safe the letter isn’t there. Then people who knew Jekyll well start dying, in apparent accidents or of natural causes.

Is Utterson right, or is he being driven mad by his disappointed greed? That’s the question. Has there been another identity all along under the prim, lawyerly surface, ready to burst forth, to breach the fortress of identity, as Mr Hyde did?

Like his Edinburgh in The Lamplighter, O’Neill’s London is powerfully-created and haunting, threaded with dark cul-de-sacs and broad handsome streets, muffled in fog that smothered domes and spires, blurred chimneys and gables, smudged walls and windows, and altogether turned the city into an immense spectral museum, through which even the most audacious traveller proceeded warily…. (1)

The book gathers pace as Utterson becomes more and more frantic to show the fake Jekyll up, winding the reader into this gathering pace so that it really is just about impossible to put the book down. He’s like a man in a nightmare, rushing through dark alleys, chasing something that gets further and further away from him, while Jekyll comes and goes, convivial and untroubled. In the dark streets his spacious, well-lit house is like a beacon of normality.

I know of few writers who can do what O’Neill does – immerse himself in another writer’s imagination and from it create something that is not a pastiche, but a new work that extends and deepens the meaning of the original. A triumph.

Here’s another review I enjoyed: http://www.otherterrainjournal.com.au/issues/issue-three/review-anthony-oneills-dr-jekyll-mr-seek/

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