Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Youth and New York in ‘Cleopatra and Frankenstein’

Olga Crée

This article contains spoilers

Wandering into the tiny closet-like store aptly titled The Almost Corner Bookstore in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome, Italy, the painting on the cover of “Cleopatra and Frankenstein” looked up at me from the main table. The 2022 novel by Coco Mellors had been on my to-read list for months, and for some reason, I was drawn to pick it up. I wondered why a book  portraying life in New York City had come to me through a bookshop in Rome. 

The novel came to my attention through the all-powerful force known as BookTok, a subsection of TikTok dedicated to all things books. The video reviews I had watched promised beautiful writing, vibrant and evocative characters, and the glittering setting of New York City in the early 2000s. Readers spoke of jaw-dropping writing and tear-jerking emotional moments, enthusiastically claiming that this book needed to be on my must-read list, like, now

In these ways, I wasn’t disappointed. This incredible New York novel is based on vibes, energy, and overall feeling. I can’t explain it better than that. 

The book opens on New Year’s Eve night in 2006 when main characters Cleo and Frank have a chance encounter, though they could not be more different. The title of the novel itself is taken from the nicknames Cleo and Frank give each other upon their first meeting. Six months later, they’re married. From there, a chain of events unfolds that unravels not only their lives but the lives of those close to them.

It’s a tale of youth and inexperience, questions about identity, and feeling untethered and lost among those you thought you knew best. Its highs and lows and devastating climax show what happens after a spur-of-the-moment choice, and how it spirals beyond what we can control. 

The aspect that sets this novel apart is its cast of characters. Every single person is a fully fleshed-out individual, with wants, hopes, and flaws of their own. Such a feat makes every page of the novel full of color and personality. Each character has their own distinct voice and feel in their point-of-view chapters, something that is difficult to achieve and maintain in a novel with such a large cast. Mellors can introduce many different moving parts while keeping them from blurring together. 

The novel fell short in its choice of the actual events the characters go through. It felt as though every time something was established, it fell apart not a few pages later, almost like it was burning as fast as it was being built up. The writing was crafted beautifully enough that I almost didn’t mind, but it still irked me at certain points while reading. 

The book is sitting in the trending category, still popular on TikTok, and finding a place on the bookstore table displays because of that. It is a novel that defies any other categorization that grips you, like the eyes of the painting on its cover. 

When I reached the last few chapters, I was struck with a sense of serendipity. The novel ends with Cleo and Frank in Rome. As I mentioned earlier, I bought the book in that city, with no idea it would end there. That coincidence made the novel’s ending incredibly bittersweet, as it reminded me of my time in Italy, which I relived through Cleo’s eyes as she took an internship there. 

“Cleopatra and Frankenstein” takes us on a nostalgic journey that does not shy away from the realities people face in their lives and brings both the immense joy and melancholic sadness of figuring out your place in the world to the page through dazzling writing. The urban tale transported me from New York to Los Angeles to Rome, a cosmopolitan tour through the eyes of characters that are unforgettable long after the novel’s last page has been turned. 

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About the Contributor
Danielle Bartholet
Danielle Bartholet, Assistant Living Arts Editor
Danielle Bartholet has been passionate about writing as long as she can remember, writing on her high school newspaper and then for the Berkeley Beacon since 2023. She is currently a freshman at Emerson as a WLP major and a marketing communications minor. She is from Houston, TX, and enjoys reading and writing, as well theatre.

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