Frankissstein

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 22 Jun 2019

Member Reviews

A rollicking delight! In typical Winterson fashion, she has taken a beloved classic and accelerated into the 21st century. This is a funny and thought-provoking read about love, gender and politics. I loved it!
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Things I have learned while reading this:

I need much, much more Jeanette Winterson in my life
I should really re-read Frankenstein
No longer working in robotics is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

You might be wondering about that last one - what do robots have to do with anything? Well, what is Frankenstein's monster if not the first example of AI?

I requested this when I saw it on Netgalley because I really enjoyed Oranges are not the Only Fruit when I read it a little while ago and because I as told this was a retelling of Frankenstein. And you know, as much as I enjoyed the original text, it isn't all that accessible and I hoped this with the funky cover and the marketing of a love story would make it much more so. In reality, this was so much more than that.

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.

Frankissstein mixes Mary Shelley's inception of her great novel with a future where AI is everywhere and Dr Ry Shelley, a trans man is falling in love with the innovator Victor Stein who is on the forefront of AI and technology.
This is such a brilliant interpretation of the Frankenstein story, much like Shelley's original it explores everything from politics to what it means to be human. Both Victor Frankenstein and Victor Stein are in the business of creating consciousness out of nothing. It discusses AI and its impact on the world, Brexit, sex and gender all in a wonderful, satirical and intelligent way.

The way gender and sexism are discussed is so clever, comparing Mary Shelley's experience with Byron and Ry's experience as a trans man living in a world where women are being pushed out by sexbots... It gave me a lot to think about especially where our society is and where it is going. I do have to state that as a cis person I can't speak for how well Ry is presented - so would like to hear from anyone who is and their thoughts on this book.

I will just say as a trigger warning - there is a sexual assault in this and there are some comments about consent that might make you uncomfortable - so if you find those things upsetting do be aware before you go into this.

Honestly, I loved this, it was so different to anything else I've read and as far as retellings go, this was amazing.
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This book, based on Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein, has two narrative streams. The first, follows the circumstances around Mary Shelley’s creation of the book Frankenstein. The second centres upon the narrative of a transgender doctor, called Rye, and their relationship with the AI specialist Victor Stein. It poses two questions. What will a future, dominated by AI look like? And, will that future hold a place for women? Along the way, it looks at; Bodily autonomy, gender, sexuality and performance.

This book is an interesting read, but there’s very little new stuff here. Winterson is being Winterson. We have her standard stylistic tics, combining a modernist structure with a lyrical, almost Victorian writing style. After a lifetime of reading this author, her writing feels like a comfortable blanket rather than a shocking ride. In addition, the stories, and themes of this book have been covered time and time again. There have been many tales of the creation of Frankenstein and many retellings of the Frankenstein story.

In addition, there have been many books dealing with AI. The science fiction canon is full of them. Writers, such as; James Tiptree and Madeleine Ashby have all looked at issues around AI. This is not to say that there is no room for another book. It is just that the themes feel familiar.

However, Winterson’s focus on the main transgender character and her emphasis on women’s future give this work a slight edge. It’s always nice to get something new from this author, but this work didn’t blow me away.
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I read the ARC courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley. 

I am a longtime reader of Winterson, and with the exception of some of her theatre-related output and novels for young readers, I think I may have read all of her. Some of it I loved, unconditionally, some of it left me frustrated and disappointed. Frankissstein is somewhere on this spectrum, closer to the latter.

It is a novel that brings together a selection of voices and stories: Mary Shelley's, lyrical and sad and profound, Ry's, a trans person whose gender is, as far as I understood, a nonbinary man (though the novel lets the narrator be quite ambiguous about that, even as we focus entirely too much on genitals), Victor's - who uses/loves/fetishises Ry, and whose identity is a central theme in the novel. Then there are some other supporting characters, used for more or less successful comic relief. The book uses clever sleight of hand to combine and entangle its threads, hoping to achieve a coherent- whole, and ultimately, the effort is partly successful. Frankenstein is his own monster and his disappearance, and the grief it occasions, bring everything together. The sum of its parts is greater than all of them separately. However, some of the parts are simply not too good on their own. Ry's transness comes off not quite believably; the character is fetishised by others, and at times, this fetishisation seems an inadvertent feature of writing rather than something critiqued; there is a sexual assault scene that seems utterly unnecessary and even prurient; at one point Ry concedes that most people do not know a single trans person (a dubious statement; they may not know they know). I don't think Winterson quite knows how to write about Ry, and much like some of her discussions of technology, she comes off dated. I don't think I'm in a position to say if she's being offensive (or how), but I do think this is a craft problem. Which is a pity because some other fragments of this novel do shine.

My second, possibly biggest complaint, however, is that Winterson reuses a line from one of her earlier novels (grief as living with someone who is not there) - I remember it, because it was my favourite thing about her Shakespeare retelling. Seeing this recycling made me feel a little cheated, somehow.
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I'm slightly lost for words at this book. It's got so much going on, and all on a variety of subjects that separately I would not choose to read about. But Jeanette's writing style and quick wit makes this a great read. I did feel slightly awkward reading it in public - but it was worth it!
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This book contains at least two linked tales and the first is one we are, in part. familiar with: that of Mary Shelley, trapped in a villa by appalling weather with Lord Byron, Dr Polidori, her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley and her step-sister (Byron's lover), and the stories they created to pass the time. Frankenstein is the best known of these - despite the fact that two of the men were noted poets - so we often see its creation as the end of Mary Shelley's story. Winterson leads us past the publication of the book, past Mary's widowhood and into the part of her life we've never had to consider before. The main part of the book, however, is a form of retelling of the original novel, both its plot and its creation, set in a present day which has at least one eye on the future. Byron has become Ron Lord, the sex-bot baron, Mary Shelley has changed into Ry, a transgender doctor who becomes more and more involved with Victor Stein and his work with artificial intelligence. Where the biographical sections of the novel, like Weir's historical work, deals with the difficulties women have faced through a thoroughly patriarchal history the present day parts look at other issues - mainly those of Ry as a trans man. This is something largely out of my own personal experience but, from that of friends, I can see that the prejudice - shown from something as seemingly harmless but insidious as misnaming through to violence and outright hatred - appears to be well-handled. I may have felt at times as if these details, important as they are to the themes of the novel, got in the way of my appreciation of the story itself but that is a sign of my privilege I'm sure. And the fact that, at points, that I was losing track of the blended plots - I think that a second reading will show me that the themes are, quite rightly, an important and intrinsic part of those plots. The misogyny is, sadly, still present - just the descriptions of the sex-bots proves that - but the expansion into the ideas of gender identity and even the possibility of escaping our bodies altogether is a fascinating development. Oddly, I am also following the BBC series Years and Years where the idea of moving beyond being transgender into being transhuman is currently being explored. A timely subject...
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I bloody love Jeanette Winterson, and fellow fans will be happy (but not surprised) to hear that she's done it again. Frankissstein is a creative and beautifully written reworking of Mary Shelley's classic novel. Winterson has framed it with more than one parallel narrative - in one, we see Mary Shelley on the fateful trip to Lake Geneva where her story was originally conceived. In another, parallel characters are recreated in the modern world - Ry, the transgender doctor, Victor Stein, the enigmatic scientist with a passion for articial intelligence, and Ron Lord, the brash and opinionated sex bot salesman. With humour and wisdom, Frankissstein asks a compelling question about how much we really know about the impact of modern science and what it means for the future.
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I really enjoyed this book. It's a re-interpretation of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. I love Winterson's writing and books, so this wasn't any different. She's a very good story teller. The book was interesting, thought provoking. 
It was set in different historical periods, which I loved. There was some dark humour too. 

So, all in all, I thought it was an enjoyable and very accomplished book. Definitely recommended. 

Thanks a lot Netgalley and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson is a modern re-interpretation of and homage to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
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‘The world is at the start of something new. We are the shaping spirits of our destiny. And though I am not an inventor of machines I am an inventor of dreams.’

Jeanette Winterson’s new novel is part re-telling of Mary Shelley’s classic gothic novel, part musing on AI and the future of mankind, and part study of the dynamics of gender and identity. It is, together, a triumph – funny, irreverent, shocking, and moving.

As with Shelley’s novel, there are framed narratives within the book. We start with Mary and her husband, together with Byron, Polidori and Mary’s stepsister Claire at the Villa Diodati beside Lake Geneva, where Shelley came up with the novel. Then we move forward in time and meet Ry Shelley, a trans doctor who has a working, and physical, relationship with Victor Stein, a leading proponent of AI. Also involved in this story is Ron Lord, creator of sexbots; Polly D., a journalist for ‘Vanity Fair’ desperate to get a scoop; and Claire, who finds religion during the course of the book. As the novel switches back and forward between these we also have weaved into the plot scenes from the famous Bedlam Hospital in 1818, where a Captain Walton brings a man calling himself Victor Frankenstein, who tells his story. When he is visited by Mary Shelley herself, Victor confronts her: ‘I am the monster you created. I am the thing that cannot die – and I cannot die because I have never lived.’

Winterson’s characters across time are connected by their stories, and by the subtle repetition of events and phrases throughout the book. As all the various storylines progress there are huge themes at play: gender identity and human identity, being both fluid and changeable; social injustice (as Shelley is outraged by the Peterloo massacre – which in itself touches on progress and the development of technology and machines); the future of AI, and how humans will exist as disembodied consciousnesses in the future. As Victor Stein raises at one point:
‘Race, faith, gender, sexuality, these things make me impatient. We need to move forward, and faster. I want an end to it all, don’t you see’

Victor, indeed, starts to become the embodiment of his fictional predecessor, as he becomes obsessed with mapping the brain of Jack Good, one of the Bletchley group who worked with Alan Turing and whose head has been cryogenically frozen at a laboratory in Arizona. The main characters from the main plot gather in the tunnels under Manchester as Victor starts acting manically. In the other strands, Mary Shelley loses her husband, drowned in a boating accident, and grows older, and we finish her timeline as she meets Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace, who herself was a brilliant mathematician and worked on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, the forerunner of modern computers (I have to admit I did not know this about Ada Lovelace, so an educational book too!).

The plot strands just work together wonderfully, and along the way Winterson isn’t afraid to tackle meaty topics. But there are genuine laugh out loud moments, particularly when the Ron Lord/Polly/Claire subplot gets going. The wonder of the book is its readability – yes, you know you are having to think about serious questions of identity and the future of humankind, but it’s also a rollickingly good story and you just keep wanting to read more. Intelligent, funny, dark at times, very metafiction – but never less than brilliant. 

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)
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I loved this mix of different storyline, historical periods all bound by the theme of how human can create life or something similar.
Ms Winterson is a brilliant storyteller and once you start the book you cannot put it down.
It's full of dark humour, interesting and realistic characters and gives you a lot of food for thought.
My favourite part was the one about Mary Shelley and I loved the atmosphere, the story and the recreation of historical characters.
The style of writing is amazing and brilliant.
I look forward to reading other books by Ms Winterson.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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*I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Reading this was like sitting down to a drink of a Laphroaig 10. To enjoy, you must slowly sip, enjoying the full bodiness of the malt. It can be a shock when you’re not used to it, the smokiness and salt with a hint of sweet. To read Frankissstein I had to slow down, allow myself to pace my reading to fully ingest the story being told. This is not a mindless read nor is it a slog. This is a story about robotics, about AI, and about the future. Every page left lingering thoughts, a slight panic, a curiosity. It’s philosophical. It’s a love story. It’s a retelling. It’s heartbreaking.

In the past we follow Mary Shelley as she brainstorms the idea of Frankenstein, There is the famous summer of 1816 and Jeanette Winterson captures beautifully the potential conception of how Frankenstein came to be.

In the present we follow Dr. Ry Shelley, a transgender doctor and Jeanette Winterson plays with the themes of gender and what does it even mean to have a body? I was wary going in as to how the author would depict a trans man, knowing that it’d be very easy for the depiction to go wrong. But I feel Jeanette really did her best for the character. Though as another reviewer has said, I would love to read more reviews from those who are trans to give a greater insight. I will say, however, in big bold red underlined text: there is a very, very uncomfortable and shocking scene involving sexual assault and transphobia. In fact, a lot of the subject matter in this book I would consider uncomfortable — sex robots and Ron Lord (who, weirdly as I was reading, seemed to leak into my dreams along with Victor Stein) — but after that scene I had to sit my Kindle down and take a long break. On top of it all, the world is rife with transphobia, misogyny and homophobia. It’s not there to shock or glorify, but is sadly an accurate depiction of Britain — and not just post-Brexit.

There were times I struggled with reading this. To use the Laphroaig comparison again: I’d consider myself a lightweight. A few sips and I’m easily confused, dizzy, and ready for a nap. Speculative fiction is maybe not entirely my jam but I’m happy to taste. I have a feeling I’ll be thinking of this book for a while and can already think of a few people I’d recommend it to. I’ve been debating back and forth on whether I’d consider this a 5-star rating but for me I think 4-star is more apt for how I felt I enjoyed it.
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I requested Frankissstein for a couple of reasons - firstly, I very much enjoy Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and I'd never read a retelling of it before. Secondly, I have read a couple of Jeanette Winterson's books before and I thought she could re-write this story very well. Unfortunately, I didn't find that to be the case. 

Winterson tried to re-ask a lot of the big questions that Shelley originally posed. What is humanity, when there are sex dolls and AI? What does it mean that people can now be made, instead of born? This could have been really interesting, but I found the writing to be unnecessarily complicated to the point where I didn't really understand anything. (The lack of speech marks was annoying, more than anything else.) Even the scenes with Mary and Percy Shelley and Lord Byron managed to be boring. 

Also, I found the depiction of the main character, Ry Shelley, to be really problematic. Ry is transgender, and is continually and purposefully misgendered throughout the entirety of the novel. I thought that this was unnecessary and hurtful. 

I really wanted to love this book, but I just found it disappointing.
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Jeanette Winterson’s new novel looks at the past, present and future to explore themes of love, gender, identity, faith, artificial intelligence and immortality. It is beautifully written, lyrical, funny and playful at times but also dark and timely.  

The past, told by Mary Shelley, is of the summer of 1816 on Lake Geneva with Shelley, Byron, his doctor Polidori and her stepsister Claire Clairmont, when boredom and bad weather led to her creation of Frankenstein. In the present, Ry Shelley is a transgender doctor, Ron Lord a Welsh sexbot entrepreneur, Claire an Evangelist Christian and Polly D a Vanity Fair journalist. All are drawn to Victor Stein, a charismatic scientist working with artificial intelligence. 

Possibly the most famous moment in literary history, the story of the stormy night on Lake Geneva has been told many times. I thought Winterson did it wonderfully, her Mary is lyrical, happily in love with Shelley but also angry and fed up with men. “The gentlemen laugh at me indulgently. They respect me up to a point but, we have arrived at that point.” as Byron speaks of the animating principle, the life spark, which he firmly believes is male. 

In the present, as Ron Lord plans for a future where manufacture of his sexbots will stimulate the economy of post Brexit Wales, Victor Stein lectures that “artificial intelligence is not sentimental – it is biased towards best possible outcomes. The human race is not a best possible outcome.” Stein, like Mary Shelley’s creation, seeks godhood, eternal life and believes that one day, humans will be able to upload their consciousness into any body – biological or robotic, they desire. He is fascinated by Ry who “Now male, now not quite, now quite clearly a woman” has already, in certain ways, done so. Ry is “liminal, cusping, in between, emerging, undecided, transitional, experimental, a start-up (or is it an upstart?) in my own life.” 

So many thoughts about what it means to be human, about our history, storytelling are interwoven with the bigger themes of the novel in a questioning and playful way. I loved it, a very enjoyable read. 

My thanks to Random House and Netgalley for the opportunity to read Frankissstein.
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Jeanette Winterson is one of my favourite authors, so when I saw this I knew I had to request it. This book not only lived up to my expectations, but exceeded it. 

This book is set in the past, but interwines with the present. Its set in the 1800s and focuses on Mary Shelley and her story of Frankenstein. Winterson delves into Mary Shelley's life, her miscarriages, and her marriage. It is told through her voice, but her story also intertwines with the characters of Winterson's updated Frankenstein love story.

It explores AI, past, present, and future technology. Will it live up to our expectation? Will we be able to live forever through technology? What will be our purpose if we do? The idea of monsters we create (internally and externally) and those that already exist around us. Love, gender fluidity, bodies, misogyny (Byron/Ron and Shelley).
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A fabulous parallel timeline homage to the original Frankenstein novel, I loved the similarities between the then and now, especially the relationship between Ry and Stein.
Insightful writing about the choices that make us who we are, and exploring the idea of identity without bodies. Ry's choice of a healthy mind over a healthy body and their journey was really well portrayed in my opinion
A definite recommend..
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Some people won’t like this book at all but I liked it a lot. It’s completely irreverent about everything from Romantic poets to sex toys and plays around with ideas about identity, mind and body, and science. It has also got a bit to do with Mary Shelley’s novel!

It starts with the Shelleys and Byron stuck in a rain swept villa in the Swiss Alps and waiting for it to stop while engaging in conversations about life and the universe as they might well have done. It’s the kind of talk which might also have led Mary to contemplate her famous novel.

Then the narrative switches to the present day where the protagonist is now Ry Shelley, a trans medic supplying a scientist, Victor Stein, with redundant limbs for experiments and research - on a legitimate basis as well. Somewhere along the way Ry and Victor become lovers and also hook up with Ron Lord (Our Lord and Lord Byron) who is planning to build a new generation of sex bots in Wales and make a fortune. The other character featured in both narratives is Claire, the half sister, and less intelligent half, of Mary. Everyone meets up at some cryogenic venue where people queue to have their brains plasticised on the off chance of immortality.

Other people pop up, so Ada Lovelace and the Babbage Engine get a look in and Mary gets to meet her literary creation, Frankenstein, in Bedlam, the infamous London Asylum. Meanwhile the book plays with ideas about what it means to create the artificial intelligence which can have life and whether a bot, however sophisticated, can think independently. That touches on artistic creativity and whether art always requires an elusive extra spark that a machine can never provide.

The narrative switches continue and eventually their wild lifestyle catches up with the Romantic coterie. Mary loses two children to fevers and, as their relationship is unravelling, Shelley drowns and then Byron dies in Greece. It is towards the end of her life that she encounters Ada.

That’s it really. Victor Stein turns out to be madder than first thought and intent on emulating his namesake in a modern digital way. The modernised Claire is a thick, born again Christian fundamentalist and it’s possible that the next generation of sex bots, quasi women to service men, are the real monsters in it all.

The book is darkly funny and it plays with some interesting ideas without going too deep. The reader can do that! The scope of the book takes in most of what we currently think of as life extending strategies and creative robotics while asking questions about what it means to be alive. It’s a good read but don’t take it too seriously and remember that it couldn’t have been written by a computer! Or, could it?
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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was first published in 1818 and over 100 years later we’re still fascinated by the gothic novel about what it means to be human. Jeanette Winterson’s 2019 Frankissstein is a modern re-telling of this chilling tale set in predominately in Brexit Britain. However, The novel’s plot darts back and forth in time; from the 1800s and the story of Mary Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein and his monster, to the ‘present’ day with the growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and a completely different society on the horizon for our future.

Frankissstein’s mysterious and dark opening is set in Geneva, 1816 with the young Mary Shelley on the brink of writing her classic novel, accompanied by her husband Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont. Much of the writing about the past is based on facts from Shelley’s life, yet, Winterson has taken her full creative license to create intriguing conversations and events that add depth to the story and run in perfectly woven parallel to the plot set in modern-day, as these tales from different eras slowly move towards one another and the exciting climax of the novel.

In this fictional present or near future created by Winterson, a young transgender doctor, Ry, is becoming increasingly intrigued and beguiled by Victor Stein, a leading professor in AI. The plot also sees the introduction of journalist and feminist; Polly D, Christian; Claire and sex doll manufacturer with an interest in AI; Ron Lord. Meanwhile, housed in Arizona are biologically dead but cryogenically frozen humans. What would happen if these lives were bought back to life or if AI took over humans as the smartest being on the planet?

A contemporary tale of friendship, love and technology which examines the blurring of the gender binary and sexual orientation, looking ahead to a future in which, perhaps, these ideas and labels will no longer matter. Jeanette Winterson’s brilliantly chilling, darkly funny, and gripping novel shows us how close to the ‘future’ we really are and explores the relationship between technology, AI and humans to ask the questions, ‘what does it really mean to be alive?’ and ‘what does it mean to create life?’
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A breathtakingly brilliant re-interpretation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for our modern age of troubled political turbulence, so incredibly funny, smart, philosophical and satirical, weaving threads from the past, present and the impact of AI developments in the future. Jeanette Winterson has pulled off a scintillating and incisive retelling of the classic novel that posits that homo sapiens is far from the most intelligent force on earth, and provides irrefutable evidence, such as the examples of Trump and Bolsonaro, our modern day monsters of destruction. It asks what is reality, where all that is solid melts into air, what exactly is human consciousness, asking and re-defining what it is to be human, and whether we can transcend our time limited biological bodies to attain and embrace a AI immortality that will make gods of humans. 

Gender fluidity, roles and expectations of women through the ages, sexism, and misogyny are explored through the various characters, such as Byron, Mary Shelley and the genius creation that is the bold and brash sexbot salesman and entrepreneur, Ron Lord, operating in a Brexit world. Lord is a divorced man, living with his mother in Wales, creating and developing a male utopia with his female sexbots that never say no to a man, bots that do not give rise to the problems men face with real life emancipated women. Ron Lord is a messiah of our disturbing world, claiming to solve issues of rape, assault and abuse everywhere, even within religion and the church. Dr Ry Shelley is transgender, having shifted reality to be who he wants to be, and in love with the famous Dr Victor Stein. In Phoenix, Arizona, humanity is preparing to rise from the ashes through the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, where the legally and medically dead are waiting to return to life. 

The novel travels through bedlam, life, death, the 'Lazarus' resurrection, history, gender, class and inequality, our contemporary monsters running rampant, and with illuminating potential future AI realities. There are so many ideas and concepts in this fascinating and highly imaginative narrative that takes Shelley's Frankenstein and spins a philosophical and relevant feminist fable for our times that is simultaneously completely hilarious and thought provoking. Winterson is a gifted writer, and this novel is sheer magnificence, from beginning to end. A true gem, I particularly adored the character of Ron Lord. A highly recommended and sublime read. Many thanks to Random House Vintage for an ARC
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I wasn’t sure whether to request this or not - but I’m so glad I did. I worried some of the blurb might be hyperbole, but it’s incredibly well written. Thoroughly enjoyable and one I’ll reread.
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