REVIEW: Frankissstein: A Love Story by Jeanette Winterson

The Official Description: In Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love – against their better judgement – with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI.

Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with Mum again, is set to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere.

Across the Atlantic, in Phoenix, Arizona, a cryogenics facility houses dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead… but waiting to return to life.

But the scene is set in 1816, when nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley writes a story about creating a non-biological life-form. ‘Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful.’

What will happen when homo sapiens is no longer the smartest being on the planet? Jeanette Winterson shows us how much closer we are to that future than we realise. Funny and furious, bold and clear-sighted, Frankissstein is a love story about life itself.

My thoughts bit: This isn’t just a book, it’s a journey. We are welcomed to Winterson’s world in 1816 when Mary Shelley is experiencing the first imaginings of a tale that would become Frankenstein. There are historical facts and figures from Mary Shelley to Alan Turing included in the telling of this story.

This book is so much more than a re-imagining of Frankenstein. This is an exploration of the meaning of life, our existence, the essence of being alive and what could happen if we ever have the ability to alter any of those things.

The story is told through the eyes of several characters. Different stories and time periods are woven together into a thought-provoking tapestry about the meaning of life.

Young Mary Shelley struggles with the birth of her horror novel as she fights against the misogynistic society in which she lives. As she struggles with the deaths of multiple children, she ponders the creation of life.

Ry is a young, transgender Doctor who finds himself emotionally engaged with Victor Stein. Victor is a force for change and the future, a scientist exploring artificial intelligence… and even darker more elusive goals. Ry lives in a world that can still be dangerous to him, misunderstands him and he seems drawn to the idea of artificial intelligence… and bodies that are created to house the human mind.

The amusing Ron Lord is a purveyor of fine sexbots. He is humorous and candid, a simple man after simple pleasures with an unerring ability to speak his mind even when it isn’t appropriate. Without seeming to mean to, Ron often reduces the meaning of a woman’s existence to providing pleasure for a man… comfort… perhaps just existing to be there for him. He’s an oddly likable character in spite of the line of work he’s in and his nonchalance about the female bots he’s selling.

There are so many things explored in this novel. What is life? Even if science finds a way to reanimate people… does that mean it should be done? What if we suddenly find a way to restore human consciousness? How would we cope with the surge in population? Should anyone be reanimated? What does an ability to change a body one is born into imply for those who live with disabilities or those who are transgender?

The dialogue in the book is oftentimes quirky, humourous, convoluted and thought-provoking. I found myself continuing to think about it long after I flipped to the last page. What if we were lucky enough to be able to live in a world without set biology? Would we still need labels to categorize gender and orientation? What is love if there isn’t a physical body?

This is a remarkable book. It’s poetic language, humor, candor, and speculation have made it one of the best I’ve read this year.

The warnings bit: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of. In this book: transphobia, vivid description of sexual assault, homophobia, misogynistic ideation from character.

Readalikes: Other stories that are similar or give the same feel

I received an ARC of  Frankissstein: A Love Story by Jeanette Winterson from Grove Atlantic via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

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