FRANKISSSTEIN by Jeanette Winterson
Grove Press, October 1, 2019
Frankissstein is a bold, bawdy, and tremendously clever creation; the first of its two storylines follows Mary Shelley as she writes Frankenstein, and the second follows a host of characters in the present-day, chronicling the love story between Ry, a transgender doctor, and Victor Stein, a scientist with a passion for artificial intelligence. The thematic interplay between these two narratives is genius, and Winterson brilliantly highlights the timelessness of the classic she’s riffing off, as themes of death, gender, and bodily limitations underscore both narratives.
But for me, the storyline in the past was the much more unique and engaging one. These chapters were just begging to be developed into a full-blown novel fictionalizing Mary Shelley, and frankly, if that’s all Frankissstein was, I’m sure I’d give it 5 stars with no reservations. Though these chapters were largely figments of Winterson’s imagination, the parallels she draws between Mary Shelley’s personal life (what we know of it, anyway) and the content of Frankenstein were incredibly stimulating.
“I have love, but I cannot find love’s meaning in this world of death. Would there were no babies, no bodies; only minds to contemplate beauty and truth. If we were not bound to our bodies we should not suffer so. Shelley says that he wishes he could imprint his soul on a rock, or a cloud, or some non-human form, and when we were young I felt despair that his body would disappear, even though he remained. But now all I see is the fragility of bodies; these caravans of tissue and bone.
At Peterloo, if every man could have sent his mind and left his body at home, there could have been no massacre. We cannot hurt what is not there.”
The issues I had with the present-day chapters were twofold: first, I found some of the philosophizing on artificial intelligence to be overwrought, and second, the humor was a series of constant misses for me. Winterson often employs humor in this novel to drive home the absurdity behind certain characters’ misogyny, but she would make her point and then continue to bash you over the head with jokes about sex-bots; it got very old for me.
In spite of this, the parallels between the two storylines were brilliantly rendered, and the overall impression I’m left with of this book is that I am very impressed, and I think this would have made a truly interesting addition to the Booker shortlist.
Thank you to Netgalley and Grove Press for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.
You can pick up a copy of Frankissstein here on Book Depository.