Frankisstein by Jeanette Winterson
Published by Vintage
Available from all good Bookshops and Online
What They Say..
As Brexit grips Britain, Ry, a young transgender doctor, is falling in love. The object of their misguided affection: the celebrated AI-specialist, Professor Victor Stein. Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with his Mum again, is set to make his fortune with a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere.
Ranging from 1816, when nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley pens her radical first novel, to a cryonics facility in present-day Arizona where the dead wait to return to life, Frankissstein shows us how much closer we are to the future than we realise.
What I Say..
“Love is a disturbance among the disturbed”
Deciding which novel to choose first from this brilliant Shortlist was always going to be one of the best problems to have let‘s be honest! After asking the brilliant Twitter Bookish People, and fuelled by my own curiosity, I picked up Frankisstein.
It tells the story of a doctor called Ry Shelley in 2016, who has fallen in love with Professor Victor Stein who is highly regarded as a maverick pioneer in the world of AI. He is determined to use his knowledge to attempt to bring human brains back to life and to work with and repackage them in whatever form he desires to introduce them into the world. Thrown into the mix is an ambitious but naive Welsh Businessman called Ron Lord, who is making lots of money thanks to his thriving sex doll business – and his Mum is his unofficial adviser! An ambitious journalist called Polly that Ry meets is highly suspicious of Victor and his motives. Polly is determined to uncover what Stein is really up to, and for me provided the moral voice of the novel in the modern narrative.
Frankisstein has two narrative strands, and the novel opens with Mary Shelley, her husband Shelley and their friends Byron, Polidori, and Byron’s mistress and Mary’s stepsister Claire holidaying in Switzerland in 1816, much to the bewilderment and delight of the locals. Mary wants to write a novel and while there, with time to think about what she wants to achieve, she finds the inspiration to start writing Frankenstein.
As we switch between the two stories, we learn that Ry Shelley is transgender, and was in fact born Mary Shelley. From the moment you understand the parallels between the two stories, the narrative becomes inextricably linked, and we see how the prevalent themes and ideas in Mary Shelley’s world of 1816 are still very much in evidence in Ry’s 2016.
As Mary struggles with the notion of identity, creation and women’s place in the world, Ry questions the morality of Ron reducing women to machines that are objects to be used to fulfill sexual needs and packaged away by men when they are finished. The ideas of creation and morality are central to both plot lines too- Mary is writing a novel about a man creating a human, and Victor is using humans to harvest the parts he needs in his quest to create new minds.
Ry becomes more involved with Professor Stein and they sleep together and have a secret relationship. Stein refuses to publicly acknowledge Ry, and admits if they had a penis he wouldn’t get involved with them which is extremely uncomfortable for us to read and upsetting for Ry too.
In Ry’s world, they are becoming more embroiled in Victor’s megalomaniacal scheme, and all of the characters are hurtle towards a cataclysmic final event that will change their futures forever. Mary Shelley writes Frankenstein, and is satisfied creatively, but this is set against the backdrop that her children pass away, and her husband becomes involved with her friend Jane Williamson with devastating consequences. Her future looks brighter when she meets Ada Lovelace and a mysterious Victor Frankenstein, which was a clever device that completes the plot.
I felt that little by little, the plots started to move closer and closer together, and the two narrative strands are eventually almost one and the same, which is undoubtedly an intriguing device. I have to be honest and admit that I found certain parts of the novel I had to reread as I didn’t completely understand them. There were so many themes that were consistent across both timelines, such as creation, morality, identity and artificial intelligence, and I felt that I learned a lot.
However at times for me it felt that the plot was overwhelmed by the number of themes and heavy scientific and philosophical theory, and I felt that I had to wade through those sections in order to reconnect with the story. It is certainly a novel that will make you stop and think about the themes, but also the idea of how a novel is created, how form and narratives can be shaped and convention overturned in order to push the reader out of a traditional understanding of what a novel should be.
For me, the character I thought the most interesting was Mary Shelley. Her desire to be recognised as a writer irrespective of her sex, and her recognition that her ability and insight is disregarded because of her gender was unsettling but also still relevant for today. I thought it was also interesting to see how her novel was the starting point and the end point for both plots, and that her narrative provided the driving force for so many ideas and issues that were relevant in 1816 and are still relevant today.
Frankisstein is an ingenious and extremely ambitious novel, there are pages of perfect prose and undoubtedly it has given me much to think about. It is a creative and thought provoking novel, with moments of humour, but most importantly, it show us how little we know about the possibilities of the future, the potential of humans and Artificial Intelligence and most devastatingly what the unforseen cost could be for humans and the world.
I am extremely proud to be a Comedy Women in Print Shadow Judge for 2020. Why don’t you check out their quite frankly fabulous website here …