Frankissstein

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 16 Oct 2019

Member Reviews

Finished Frankisstein - I really liked this one. Will come back and add a review.
I thought this was such a clever book, I never quite knew what to expect with her playing with modern AI plans, Mary Shelley's story and ideas of what it means to be human. What would happen if everyone never died? How are the ideas of Shelley and the fears of Frankenstein's monster linked to our worries today? I can't say I am knowledgeable about AI, but I loved the way she brought together Turing's Manchester with high tech advances in the US. Maybe some of the advances she mentions are not here yet, but how far off?
"We are lucky, even the worst of us, because daylight comes."
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Love this book. Apart from the ingenious reworking of the Frankenstein storyline, the construction of the sentences and the choice of vocabulary are such a pleasure to read. I am a pretty speedy reader but it has taken me a lot longer to read this than many other books. The reason? Because I’ve re-read sections to bask in the beauty of the writing!
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Only in the living of it does life seem ordinary. In the telling of it we find ourselves strangers among the strange.

Brilliant and thought provoking.
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I can think of few classic novels that have had such a widespread influence on both popular culture and literature as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus”. Even if people haven’t read Shelley’s novel they have a sense of Doctor Frankenstein’s creation from the many films which have (mistakenly) portrayed him as a senseless monster. I even went to a show recently called Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster where talented young musicians from the BAC Beatbox Academy re-created the body of the monster in song as a way of describing terrifying issues and people they experience in everyday life. But Shelley’s characters, ideas and powerful story have also permeated the imaginations of so many novelists since the book’s initial publication in 1818. Most recently it’s been directly referenced and reimagined in the novels “Frankenstein in Baghdad” by Ahmed Saadawi and Jeanette Winterson’s latest novel “Frankissstein”. Winterson’s novels have always had strong ties to the work of past writers (most notably Virginia Woolf) but her recent novels more strongly incorporate this influence such as her remix of The Winter’s Tale in her novel “The Gap of Time”. 

“Frankissstein” goes a step further creating a dual narrative which switches back and forth between a historical section where we see Mary Shelley writing her famous novel and a near future where a non-binary individual named Ry Shelley engages in a complicated romantic relationship with a secretive scientist named Professor Stein. The historical sections have a more philosophical feel as Mary engages in meaningful discussions with her husband, the poet Byron and other interesting figures from the time period. The modern section is much more playful as it initially begins at a convention where a madcap capitalist named Ron promotes the use of his advanced range of sexbots designed to suit everyone’s emotional and physical needs. There’s even a Germaine Greer sex doll! Meanwhile, Professor Stein gives a lecture about the future of humans in a post-human world and engages in some edgy scientific experimentation. While the tone of these two narrative threads sound totally at odds with each other they feel strangely cohesive – especially as the novel increasingly becomes concerned with questions about the advancement of our species, the meaning of consciousness and the complicated dynamics of love: “Love is not a pristine planet before contaminants and pollutants, before the arrival of Man. Love is a disturbance among the disturbed.” The novel also has a political edge engaging with issues to do with feminism, gender identity, ethics and Brexit. 

One of Winterson’s greatest talents is mixing an ardent seriousness in her writing with a richly playful sensibility to form stories that are both engaging and deeply poignant. Initially I felt more emotionally engaged by Mary’s 19th century tale and her struggles with marriage, friendship, money and nationality. But as the story progressed I became more attached to the character of Ry (whose shortened name could be a part of the names Mary or Ryan.) Ry encounters prejudice because of their gender identity and also develops a strong sexual connection and relationship with Professor Stein who is frustrated because falling for Ry wasn’t a part of his plan. Both Mary and Ry find themselves oddly positioned in relation to men whose grandiose ideas about mankind’s advancement don’t encompass matters to do with the human heart. In a sense, Mary and Ry are a continuation of the same person who has changed through the centuries like Woolf’s “Orlando”. In this way Winterson brilliantly messes with the perceived linear nature of time and the way certain issues emerge continuously amidst society’s progression: “Our lives are ordered by the straight line of time, yet arrows fly in all directions. We move towards death, while things we have scarcely understood return and return wounding us for our own good.”

The novel also considers ideas about storytelling itself - both in forming fictional narratives and the narrative of history. Mary Shelley was in the unusual position of producing a brilliant novel so early in her life and its themes go on to haunt her as Winterson shows how her life plays out in subsequent years. I like how Winterson considers how oddly abstract experience becomes when it’s formed into a story: “Only in the living of it does life seem ordinary. In the telling of it we find ourselves strangers among the strange.” But I also appreciate how she confronts popular notions of nationalism and that the idea of Britishness is just another story we’re telling ourselves: “The timeless serenity of the past that we British do so well is an implanted memory – you could call it a fake memory. What seems so solid and certain is really part of the ceaseless pull-it-down-build-it-again pattern of history, where the turbulence of the past is recast as landmark, as icon, as tradition, as what we defend, what we uphold – until it’s time to call in the wrecking ball.” I think this notion is good to keep in mind when any politician cites historical references to support their own ideological campaigns. 

While I like to linger on many lines in Winterson’s novels (she’s a very quotable author) because she can poignantly encapsulate powerful ideas in few words, sometimes these grand statements pull me out of the flow of the story. The point of view can at times feel more like Winterson’s rather than her characters. There’s also occasional clunky lines such as a discussion about feminism where Mary self-consciously names her mother in a way that’s more for the reader’s benefit rather than for the characters she’s conversing with: “My mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, would not agree with you, I said.” Yet, these are minor quibbles I had with a novel I so thoroughly admire and enjoyed. I like reading novels which aren’t afraid to converse so self-consciously with stories that have come before. I think “Frankissstein” does this artfully while making a tale that is entirely new and immensely fun to read.
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I just could not get into this book, and it's my first Jeanette Winterson and everyone raves about her so I tried so hard and persevered until almost half way.... but I don't hate myself enough to carry on. And I don't mean that in a 'it's so terrible, I can't possible read one more word', I just mean I'm not enjoying it, it's not clicking with me, why push myself to read it just because other people might enjoy it? I found the threads of storyline fascinating - the sex dolls and the futuristic talk of AI. But the chapters of Mary Shelley confused me with their relevance and I absolutely despite books which don't use speech marks. Like, you're just making it more difficult for me to read and follow and enjoy? And with the notably dodgy layout of ARCs where paragraph and sentence spacing are all off... I couldn't.
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Jeanette Winterson combines the story of Mary Shelley writing her famous book 'Frankenstein' with a modern day re-invention of the scientist who created 'the monster'. Inventive and imaginative, the book touches on a wide array of topics, from artificial intelligence to cryonics and the ethics of (modern) science.
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Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson is an incredibly fun and interesting story of how technology, humans and development interconnect both today as well as in the 1800s, when Mary Shelley’s original novel was written. Winterson’s novel is a reflection on the bodies we live in and the bodies we long for, and how they are connected.

This novel is a treat for those who, like me, are massive fans of the original Shelley novel and its place in history and society, because this novel is essentially page after page with references to the classic text. The novel is told through two timelines:

In post-Brexit United Kingdom, a transgender doctor named Ry Shelley is falling in love with Victor Stein, a famous professor who plays a key role in the debate on artificial intelligence and has a warehouse of cryogenically frozen human bodies waiting to be reborn across the pond.  At the same time, the inventor Ron Lord has huge plans to launch a new generation sex dolls for lonely men from his mum’s house.

The other timeline is that of Mary Shelley living with Lord Byron and Percy Shelley in the early 1800s, writing Frankenstein. Personally, I would have preferred a whole novel just about the present-day story. Winterson succeed at addressing new inventions and developments within tech and does not steer clear of controversial topics, such as sex dolls and the value of human life. Throughout she writes with a cheeky tone and clearly does not take herself or her story too seriously, which is a treat to read. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to Elon Musk when reading about the near-megalomania of Ron Lord.

This novel was pitched as a “love story…. about life itself”, and while this novel can be read as a celebration of lives in certain parts, I found that the concept of “love story” didn’t suit the book I read. I loved reading this novel and for die-hard Frankenstein fans this will be a treasure trove of fun references, however for anyone not super familiar with the original story and Mary Shelley’s personal life, I’m not sure this book would be as enjoyable.
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I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but it completely captured my attention on a long train journey.  Featuring AI, sex robots, Mary Shelley and the origins of Frankenstein, it raises ethical questions about who we are and what, and who, we have the potential to become.
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An interesting concept that could probably only be written by Jeanette Winterson given that she has already shared her thoughts about bodies and how they are viewed especially with regards to sex. A combination of two stories which occasionally felt like three; One - imagining Mary Shelley's life as she wrote Frankenstein, these parts are written in the style of that time and also contain the pathos. Two - the modern day story of Ry Shelley who is trans and their relationship with Dr Victor Stein who is working with artificial intelligence, their relationship is explored in an interesting way, at times poignant and at others worrying. There is almost a third story about Ron Lord a sex bot salesman whom Ry and Victor meet, Ron is a comic character and I feel that he is there to bring the humour in-between the pathos and the philosophical exploration of ideas about body autonomy, Trans and AI. He does this very well but whilst you are laughing at him, there is disquiet at the reality of sex bots and how they are used. 
I did enjoy and needed the humour which lifted the book and reminded me of early Winterson and that finding comedy in the macabre and difficulties of life is a welcome skill. However, there is a scene of sexual violence that does make a serious point about Trans people being at risk in public bathrooms but there was no mention of the character afterward or what happened next which I found disquieting. At times I felt the book was set on the future but then there would be mention of Brexit and Trump which made it clear that it was supposed to be present day, at times confusing and jarring. I'm also found myself more convinced by the feminist discussions around sexbots and the 'perfect' body than the Trans character where I was very aware that the author is a Cis woman. 

Overall a quick and interesting read. 

With thanks to Netgalley for a free copy in exchange for a review.
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Of course, anything new from Winterson is a huge treat. Frankissstein is no exception. While a little sprawling in places, it's incredibly entertaining and possesses a timely message; it's topical without being preachy. 

Hugely enjoyable.

My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.
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A short and quick read that made my mind hurt and jumped from different point of views. Shelley meets 21st Century robotics.
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This is not an easy read for several reasons, but it is so very worthwhile. The weaving of past and present, modern and classic tales is deftly handled, though the jumps can sometimes be a little confusing for a reader who isn't paying full attention! 
Questions about the basic human condition are raised, who are we, what makes us human and what impact could technologies have if we can create and reanimate lives? What is the soul and what would happen to a soul that has been separated from the physical body if that is reanimated? 
At times this book made me laugh out loud and the interactions between Claire and Ron are priceless!
Read this. It repays the effort.
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This was an ambitious novel. Winterson is linking two strands. The first one is the historical one where  Mary Shelley is writing Frankenstein. The second is a modern day tale of Ron who is manufacturing "sexbots" and a mysterious man called Frankenstein who is trying to go beyond cryogenics into new territories.

Of course what links both stories is the limit of science and ethics of science. 
"what is the point of progress if it benefits the few while many suffer"
As in the original Frankenstein the responsibilities of creators  (and writers as creators ) are explored. Also the question of what IS life

"yet if the automata had intelligence ...would that be sufficient to call it alive?"    

Winterson is also looking at the equality of women . Shelley is also famously the daughter of the pioneering  Mary Wollstencroft. In the modern strand can women just be reduced to a "sexbot" to meet the "needs" of men? There is also the linking of Ada Lovelace and her tradition of mathematics  leading to modern day computing,  with a modern day counterpart.
I was slightly irritated by two authorial notes. Why? Is Winterson trying to remind the reader of the author as creator?

For me Winterson was strongest on the historical side. as a way of celebrating the anniversary of Frankenstein I am not sure if the juxtaposition of the two strands worked for me, although all the themes raised are important ones.
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This is a strange book - a mix of times and characters, some real, some imagined and all troubled in some way. But - as ever with Ms Winterson - this is a beautifully written, thought provoking book. Part is the story of Mary Shelley in Italy with PB Shelley and Lord Byron and part is the modern story of Ry a young transgender man who meets up with Ron who is creating a variety of sex dolls... the theme being the creation of life. To complicate matters Ry is falling in love with Victor Stein, who is strangely mysterious. There are many threads here and much switching around but Winterson is excellent at managing complicated plots. I enjoyed the book and it’s a good read, but I far preferred the Mary Shelley part and felt that Ms Winterson captured her pain and her thoughts best of all the characters. Ry has some great lines and some horrible experiences but the Shelley parts sang to me.

Recommended if you’re looking for something totally different as your next read or if you like Mary Shelley and Frankenstein and want to "be there" while she develops the idea of her great book.

I was given a copy of this book by Netgalley in return for an honest review.
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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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