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Since her astonishing debut at twenty-five with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson has achieved worldwide critical and commercial success as "one of the most daring and inventive writers of our time" (Elle). Her new novel, Frankissstein, is an audacious love story that weaves together disparate lives into an exploration of transhumanism, artificial intelligence, and queer love.

Lake Geneva, 1816. Nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley is inspired to write a story about a scientist who creates a new life-form. In Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI and carrying out some experiments of his own in a vast underground network of tunnels. Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with his mom 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.

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

345 pages, Hardcover

First published May 28, 2019

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About the author

Jeanette Winterson

110 books6,268 followers
Novelist Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester, England in 1959. She was adopted and brought up in Accrington, Lancashire, in the north of England. Her strict Pentecostal Evangelist upbringing provides the background to her acclaimed first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, published in 1985. She graduated from St Catherine's College, Oxford, and moved to London where she worked as an assistant editor at Pandora Press.

One of the most original voices in British fiction to emerge during the 1980s, Winterson was named as one of the 20 "Best of Young British Writers" in a promotion run jointly between the literary magazine Granta and the Book Marketing Council.

She adapted Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit for BBC television in 1990 and also wrote "Great Moments in Aviation," a television screenplay directed by Beeban Kidron for BBC2 in 1994. She is editor of a series of new editions of novels by Virginia Woolf published in the UK by Vintage. She is a regular contributor of reviews and articles to many newspapers and journals and has a regular column published in The Guardian. Her radio drama includes the play Text Message, broadcast by BBC Radio in November 2001.

Winterson lives in Gloucestershire and London. Her work is published in 28 countries.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,079 reviews
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,543 reviews24.6k followers
July 24, 2019

Delighted to see this on the Booker Longlist!

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
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
779 reviews5,384 followers
October 19, 2022
The monster once made cannot be unmade. What will happen to the world has begun.

There is a certain spark that catches fire within me whenever I start a Jeanette Winterson novel, her prose immediately transporting me into her realm of wild logic and zany brilliance that I’ve come to find so intoxicating. It’s like when I was a child and the LucasFilm logo would come up on the theater screen, shooting a chill and thrill through my body because I knew what was imminent, or that feeling when the roller coaster crests the first drop—the feeling of Here. We. Go. And what a wild ride Frankissstein: A Love Story is as Winterson creates with a patchwork of past—reanimating the story of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley as she writes Frankenstein and all its lessons within&with the ‘future/now’ of AI, transgender and transhuman and brings them to life with her special shock of prose and plot styling. Frankissstein is endlessly playful and humorous and Winterson excels at making everything fluid from the prose to genders and the timeline of the novel where one moment you are in the Swiss Alps in 1816 and then next traversing subterranean tunnels with severed hands crawling like spiders. While both a paean to the past and warning to the future, Frankissstein is a love story at heart, between lovers, of humanity, of progress and all the terrors it may bring, and of creator and creations.

Why is it that we wish to leave some mark behind? said Byron. Is it only vanity?
No, I said, it is hope. Hope that one day there will be a human society that is just.

I had been intending to keep reading Winterson from oldest to most recent but after having, quite by coincidence, made my summer reading full of queer mosters stories (Our Wives Under the Sea and Carmilla), it felt only right to see how my now-favorite author would approach the genre. As always: brilliantly and unconventionally. The narrative here rotates between Mary Shelley during the summer retreat with Lord Byron, John William Polidori, her soon-to-be-husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and half-sister Claire that inspired Frankenstein and Ry (from Mary), a trans doctor set in the ‘future/now’. Winterson has a knack for weighting a novel in historical fiction while sashaying across a timeline, creating a wonderful juxtaposition between the ideas of Mary Shelley and company with the modern anxieties of AI as well as the themes from the source material of Frankenstein with Winterson’s own themes and theories in Frankissstein. In this way we see the catalyst for the Peterloo massacre contextualized alongside Brexit, offering an abstract commentary on recurring themes of history through their adjacencies. Mary’s comments in 1816, in this way, function just as well as a commentary on the present:
saw that the wretched creatures enslaved to the machines were as repetitive in their movements as machines. They were distinguished only by their unhappiness. The great wealth of the manufactories is not for the workers but for the owners. Humans must live in misery to be the mind of the machines.

They say the past is a foreign country but in Winterson’s hands it is also a borderless one, the past, present and future folded together into the quagmire of history and Ideas. ‘The opposite of the past is the present,’ says Victor, ‘anyone can live in a past that is gone or a future that does not exist. The opposite of either position is the present,’ and in this way we see past and present as two sides of the same whole, as if simultaneously in the narrative. The effect also grants a more dynamic aspect to the seemingly recurring characters (Ry Shelley, Victor Stein, or Lord Byron/Ron Lord) making them more expressions of their themes and a multifaceted idea with constant energy from creator/creation chasing one another across history. ‘My mind idled around the difference between desire for life without end and desire for more than one life, that is, more than one life, but lived simultaneously,’ thinks Ry, positioning it as akin to the dual lives across time in Sexing the Cherry and allowing for a greater nuance of character as they wrestle with themes throughout time unrestrained from one-to-one comparisons.

Like Victor Frankenstein’s, our digital creations depend on electricity – but not on the rotting discards of the graveyard. Our new intelligence – embodied or non-embodied – is built out of the zeros and ones of code.
-Jeanette Winterson, 12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next

In an interview with Literary Hub, Winterson discusses ‘the corporatization of everything,’ and how that has, with AI, come to even have influence over the way we love one another, a major theme of the book. ‘I am not at all anti-tech,’ she says, ‘but we really can’t leave this stuff to socially stunted white boys and corporate greed,’ which is at the root of several ethical quandaries in Frankissstein. Namely, if AI learns from us, what reflection of our society will it give with concerns of racial and gender bias and will this further harm marginalized people with the novel taking a special focus on trans and non-binary people (which is a modern twist to Shelley’s Frankenstein about how lack of paternal care caused the creation to become monstrous and we, people, might be the true monsters). This has long been a concern, and, as Caroline Criado Pérez discusses in her book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, in virtually every aspect of life ‘ we continue to rely on data from studies done on men as if they apply to women.’ She demonstrates how this appears everywhere for the medical field, car safety design, urban planning and even standard hand size for tools. Winterson asks us to consider how this will show up in AI, especially considering it is a known issue such as when a 2020 report found that 90% of companies have faced at least one instance of ethical issues due to AI systems, with 60% of these involving legal scrutiny. ‘He is not human, yet the sum of all he has learned is from humankind.’ Shelley writes, a message that applies to both Frankenstein’s monster and the machine learning of AI.

The biases learned from the data is something UCLA professor Safiya Umoja Noble terms in her book Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism as ‘technological redlining’ which is ‘embedded in computer code and, increasingly, in artificial intelligence technologies that we are reliant on, by choice or not.’ She shares Winterson’s concern that ‘where men shape technology, they shape it to the exclusion of women, especially Black women.’ With Silicon Valley having a large gender gap as well as a notable issues of rampant misogyny and sexual harassment, this seems a valid worry, on that is voiced by several characters in Frankissstein, most notably Vanity Fare journalist Polly D who ask ‘will women be the first casualties of obsolescence in your brave new world?’ This eventually seeps into a criticism of cis liberals and the way they fetishize trans ideology for argumentative points as well as gatekeep gender performance, but more on that later.

One of the more humorous aspects of the novel is Ron Lord’s sex-bot industry—which at all time risk waking up and moaning ‘daddy’ at inopportune times in the novel—but also soft pitches the first ethical queries about creating, AI and how technological advances will alter the way we love and interact. Ron sees sex-bots as freedom and a way to empower men, while others worry it is another way that ‘men subjugate women.’ In her non-fiction work 12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next, which feels like the essay version extension of this novel, Winterson explores this at length in the essay Hot for a Bot. She contrasts notable Chinese feminist Xiao Meili who argues that ‘men will always have outdated expectations, and ‘sex housewife robots’ might actually help women’ with Dr Kathleen Richardson, who founded the Campaign Against Sex Robots in 2015, and ‘is concerned that sex robots reinforce stereotypes, encourage the objectification and commercialisation of women’s bodies and increase violence towards women’ (Ron mentions clients smashing or maiming the heads of his sex-bots is a common problem).

I enjoyed the characterization of Ron as a stereotypical ‘tech bro’, yet in many ways he becomes a rather endearing character and seeing him at least try (though mostly failing) to understand the arguments, particularly around transgender and transhuman issues. ‘Doll-world likes to paint itself as a daring challenge to convention,’ writes Winterson, ‘in reality, doll-world reinforces the gender at its most oppressive and unimaginative.’ There is certainly something to ponder about the way the dolls are ‘made to look like the male-gaze stereotype,’ and programed to be submissive and get off on abuse will do to human relationships, something Frankissstein approaches with humor tinged with horror.

All our faults, vanities, idiocies, prejudices, cruelty. Do you really want augmented humans, superhumans, uploaded humans, forever humans, with all the shit that comes with us?

Winterson plumbs the depths of the creator/creation ideas from Frankenstein in multiple ways here, with Victor Stein pushing boundaries in the whole ‘playing God’ idea as he hopes to resurrect dead organs and even map the brain to upload consciousness for digital and eternal life. There is some great stuff here when present-day Claire, the anti-robot, ultra-Christian unexpectedly joins forces with Ron Lord because she wants to see if the soul will return to the self upon reanimation. Even Mary Shelley must confront a literal flesh-and-blood Victor Frankenstein in a sanitorium, only to find the motif of herself chasing him through all of history as he chases his creation. Winterson World is wild and I love it. We are even treated to real-life I. J. Good’s head preserved in a jar awaiting Victor Stein to ‘steal life from the gods. At what cost?

And what if we are the story we invent?

The digital or reanimated self, as well as tech-implant in the novel quickly juxtapose issues of transhumanism and transgender questions that make up for some of the most interesting aspects of the novel. Through Ry, a trans man, we see Winterson address the hypocrisy of tech-bros who preach of digital consciousness while still reacting violently (as a misogynistic policing for the patriarchy, as Dr. Kate Manne would put it) or squeamishly to trans people. Men here gender robots they have sex with can’t call Ry by his correct pronouns. When Ron questions how digital existence will change online dating, Ry comments that it would be like old correspondence, all consciousness without the body: ‘there would be no straight, gay, male, female, cis, trans. What happens to labels when there is no biology?

Winterson steps us through multiple examples of reinventing or rebuilding oneself but then questions why being the gender one identifies with is crossing the line for some. Mary’s half-sister changes her name, for example (‘I did not disapprove of this. Why should she not remake herself? What is identity but what we name it? Jane/Claire’) and Mary considers the story of Pygmalion marrying a statue that he brings to life and then becomes a woman—’a double transformation from lifeless to life and from male to female.’—or the statue of Hermoine that comes to life in Shakespeare’s The Winter's Tale (which Winterson reimagined in The Gap of Time). Naming is important, Winterson writes, as is using correct pronouns lest we Other people. As Albert Camus said ‘to name things wrongly is to add to the misfortune of the world,’ such as how calling Frankenstein’s creation a monster drove him into violent isolation.
If you believe, as I do, that religious texts – like myths – are texts we create to mirror the deeper structures of the human psyche, then yes, naming is still our primary task. Poets and philosophers know this…I cannot conjure spirits, but I can tell you that calling things by their right names is more than giving them an identity bracelet or a label, or a serial number. We summon a vision. Naming is power.

Ry faces a lot of resistance and fetishizing for being trans (particularly from Vic who is a stereotypical “ally” that amounts mostly to fetishization, you know, they type that will argue that someone isn’t performing identify enough to meet their standards of how trans identity can be discussed) and asks ‘if the body is provisional, interchangeable, even, why does it matter so much what I am?’ Even Victor seems to view Ry mostly as a curiosity, attracted to him as someone who reinvented himself but trips up when Ry asks if he had a penis would Victor still be attracted. Victor, who thinks consciousness and the human body are separate and the former will live without the confines of the latter in his future. Winterson has said ‘‘gender identity is more fluid,’ and grappled with that in extraordinary fashion in Written on the Body which features a narrator with no gender identifies, and it is interesting to see this explored in context of digital futures. There is a sexual assault scene, reminding us that trans people face extreme aggression and violence to the extent that the Human Rights Campaign declared it an epidemic. This is just all very interesting to see addressed in a modern sci-fi novel like this, building on themes Winterson has approached since the 80s.

This is a love story

As with most Winterson, an examination of love is at the heart of this book. And is always written about in such gorgeous prose and phrasing. Take for example Victor’s speech here (there is, to be fair, a lot of soliloquizing in this book):
We read a book about ourselves and wonder if we have ever existed. You hold out your hand. I take it in mine. You say, this is the world in little. The tiny globe of you is my sphere. I am what you know. We were together once and always. We are inseparable. We can only live apart.

This perfectly addresses the theme of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein across time and is rather cute. So is Victor’s constant return to Baye’s theorem telling Ry his presence is new data that alters the outcome. Scientists sure know how to flirt in Winterson World. If I have one criticism of the novel, it is that occasionally the dialogue reads a bit off or forced, though these are characters that are oddballs in society so maybe it works? Whenever there is a clunky moment in the novel it is also Winterson experimenting and I give it grace for at least trying new things. I do enjoy how Winterson has an uncanny pulse on modern day tech and language though, and when Mary responds in all caps ‘THIS IS THE MOST PROFOUND THING THAT CLAIRE HAS SAID IN HER LIFE,’ the folding of past and present makes it read in current twitter voice that makes you !!!! and is just funny. Winterson even makes quoting The Eagles sound brainy.

This is madness, I said. What is sanity? he said. Can you tell me? Poverty, disease, global warming, terrorism, despotism, nuclear weapons, gross inequality, misogyny, hatred of the stranger.

Frankissstein is a bold, brash and brilliant novel that takes you through corkscrews of ideas Winterson continues to astonish me and I have to admit it was also the most fun I’ve had with a book lately. I really enjoying doing outside reading on the topics, such as how Lord Byron was a prick. The Mary scenes are extraordinary, I could have read a book of just that. This is a fun book, though those looking for an entry point might want to start with her earlier work, and while having read the source material was nice, it is not necessary. That said, Winterson reanimates Frankenstein here for a further examination of it’s themes coupled with a modern landscape of technology and ethics for a wild ride of a book you won’t soon forget.


Humans: so many good ideas. So many failed ideals.'
Profile Image for Linda.
340 reviews92 followers
June 7, 2019
I am disappointed and deeply uncomfortable.


I am not trans so please take my review with a grain of salt, but dear god. at best, this book is irresponsibly and deeply clueless, and in bad taste. at worst, it's vaguely terfy.

why does a cis woman who does not even understand the most basic things about gender - such as "trans men are men" "being trans and being gay is not the same" and "being trans is not inherently about feminism" - think that she can write a book about gender with a trans man as the protagonist? it was bad. giving the benefit of the doubt, the nicest thing I can say here is that this author does not understand how gender works. I highly doubt that any trans men were consulted while writing this book. there was a weird focus on his genitals, too. overall, this feels very disrespectful toward trans people.
As a sidenote, there was also some fatphobia in this book, and even apart of the trans representation, the "feminist" themes were very shallow and one-note.

Also, the book did this annoying thing where it didn't use quotation marks for its dialogue because it's so ~literary
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
767 reviews1,144 followers
March 8, 2020
Have you ever read a book where you have to keep re-reading paragraphs or even entire pages not because your mind drifted and you don't know what you just read, but because you do know what you read and it delighted you so much that you simply have to read it again? I haven't come across many writers who do that for me. Jeanette Winterson is an exception and Frankissstein is one of those books. Reading this book gave my brain a fantastic jolt on just about every page, a flood of dopamine and serotonin repeatedly washed through my brain. The sheer exquisiteness of the prose, the ingenious metaphors, and the philosophical aspects of the story delighted me immensely.

This is the story of Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein. It is the story of Ry Shelley, a transgender doctor living in the present day. It is the story of Lord Byron, Ron Lord, Dr. Polidori, Polly D, Victor Frankenstein and Victor Stein, a scientist developing AI. Jeanette Winterson takes us on a journey back to the past and into the future, masterfully weaving the stories of all these individuals, intertwining their lives and their thoughts and their souls. It is profound and it is funny. It is philosophical. It asks us to reflect on many questions: What is intelligence and what is life? Are we our bodies or are we just souls inhabiting physical matter? If we upload a human brain into a machine, would it be human or would it be machine? What, if anything, sets humans apart from other living beings? If we succeed in creating true AI, how will it feel about being created to serve us or about living amongst us?

I mention that Ry is transgender because Ms. Winterson uses this story to show that gender is more than just the body we inhabit and that we humans are far more complex than our genders and any labels that are slapped upon us or even given to us by ourselves. Labels are helpful in navigating the world, but no person can fully inhabit any category. We transcend our labels.

Ron Lord is perhaps the funniest character I've come across in a Jeanette Winterson book. He is a sexbot salesman, misogynistic, and unable to accept Ry as he is. Claire (the counterpart to Mary Shelley's step-sister) is an evangelical Christian who is at first against the idea of sexbots though later convinces Ron to create and sell "bots for Jesus" as well, Christian "companions" (wink, wink) for the devout. I laughed many times reading the dialogue between these two characters, full-out-feel-good belly laughs. Ms. Winterson throws in a few Trump jabs too, which is always appreciated for helping survive the current political madness.

Fans of Jeanette Winterson, lovers of speculative fiction, those who delight in word play -- all will love this newest gem from Jeanette Winterson. In my opinion, it is her greatest work thus far!

Many thanks to Jeanette Winterson, Grove Press, and Edelweiss+ for providing me with a free digital review copy. This in no way influenced my review.
Publication date: October 2019
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,105 followers
August 6, 2019
Frankenstein reanimated

Part fictionalised life story of Mary Shelley, part bonkers ‘mad scientist’ caper set in the five-minutes-from-now future, Frankissstein is riotously funny, philosophically rich, and one-of-a-kind.

Lake Geneva, 1816. 18-year-old Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, John Polidori and Clair Clairmont are holed up during a storm. They pass the time with ghost stories and talk of galvanism, consciousness, and loom-smashing Luddites, as Shelley begins writing her famous Frankenstein. We then follow Shelley’s life in pensive, beautifully drawn chapters that would make for a stunning historical fiction novel on their own.

The future/now. Transgender, non-binary doctor Ry Shelley, charismatic scientist Victor Stein, sexbot magnate Ron Lord (Lord By-Ron, get it?), journalist Polly D and religious evangelist Claire are caught up in a madcap plot involving cryonics and stolen body parts. It’s a dizzying ride, with some characters prone to crude sex jokes while others are more likely to lapse into philosophical debates on transhumanism.

Novels that employ humour can be hit-or-miss, particularly when the gags are as ribald and dorky as they are here. Whether or not it happens to tickle your funny bone will probably be the difference between finding Frankissstein enormous fun… or just silly.

Winterson shrewdly draws the parallels between Mary Shelley’s time and our own: the disruption of the Industrial Revolution equating with today’s anxieties over automation; the potential for AI to actualise what Shelley envisaged – autonomous, thinking artificial life. Cryonics also features in the plot but isn’t afforded much seriousness. To me that makes sense, because right now it’s the AI that really frightens us: our 21st century monsters are stitched together from zeroes and ones.

Clever, funny and more than a little nutty, Frankissstein is hugely entertaining and just right for right now. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Dolors.
523 reviews2,176 followers
July 21, 2020
This novel possesses all the necessary ingredients to shine for its uniqueness: an unconventional structure, an ambitious approach to storytelling, a profound meditation on themes that should appeal the most demanding of readers…
And yet.

As the title anticipates, this is a retelling of the famous novel by Mary Shelley that takes “the monster” of her creation beyond her present time to project a future where technological progress might mean the end of the world as we know it.
The “kiss” hidden among the letters of the aberrant Frankenstein is an open reference to the love stories connecting the two timelines of the novel: the first is set in 1816 at the famous villa in Lake Geneva where Mary spent time with the poets Lord Byron and her lover P.B. Shelley debating about the limits of the body in relation to the immeasurable power of the mind.
The second timeline takes place in modern London where Ry, a young transgender doctor, falls in love with Victor Stein, an iconic professor who champions artificial intelligence as the definite solution to the biggest fear that has haunted human beings since the beginning of times; the certainty of our own mortality.

As the stories move forward, the two timelines become more and more tangled and the characters seem to jump through time and space by means of abstract concepts. Meditations on what constitutes the death of a body or what defines a mind take the stage while social restrictions that have traditionally described people like gender, race and culture become obsolete when confronted with the upcoming challenges of the future; sex bots, cryopreserved bodies, intelligent prosthesis that question the limits between improving the quality of life or the frenzied ambition to beat death at all costs.
Where to draw the line?

This is a highly accomplished novel, ambitious in scope and creative in style. Certain sections are even brilliant, particularly the ones dealing with the historical recreation of Mary Shelley’s progression as woman and author, the evolution of her inner thoughts as her resilience is tested by the cruel passing of her children and beloved husband, and the dreamlike encounter with “her creation” in Bedlam hospital. The themes are delicately exposed, blending the pace of poetry with the depth of existential meditation.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the other timeline where modern characters take the lead from the past. The language is shabby and hurried, dialogue is annoyingly cliched, the characters lack depth and credibility. I didn’t quite understand Winterson’s reason to include tasteless sex scenes to emphasize the duality of Ry’s sexual orientation or the cheap correlation between secondary characters and great “personalities” such as Byron, Shelley or even fictional Victor Frankenstein. More than a homage, it read like cheap mockery to me.
A real shame that these chapters diminished the pleasure of the earlier sections and devalued what could have been one of the best reads of the year to a mere “potentially-great” novel.

Note: I received an ACR of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Henk.
822 reviews
September 12, 2020
Funny, deeply humane and quite thought provoking
”Humans: so many good ideas. So many failed ideals.”

General storyline
Certainly better written than the original in my opinion. Jeanette Winterson follows Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley when she writes Frankenstein and mixes this with a reimagining of this tale set in a tomorrow obsessed with AI, robotics and immortality.

I especially liked the parts relating the story of Mary Shelley and what her inspirations could have been to write Frankenstein. She is portrayed as young, reflective and slightly socially akward (”I was never bored, except in the company of others.”)
The love she has with her husband is also portrayed in beautiful prose: “When I was pregnant with William, he used to get on his knees as I sat on the edge of the bed and hold my stomach in his hands like a rare book he hadn’t read.”
Tragedy is however also very much present in her 19th century life, with three dead children and a dead husband before her 25th birthday. And finally Winterson imagines a thread where her fictional creation seems to come alive and haunts her from Bedlam to a cocktailparty.

The contemporary/near future part centres around Ry Shelley, a female to male transgender doctor who is in love with Victor Stein. Victor is like a Yuval Noah Harari, with grand visions on a transhuman future, a succesfull TED talk and an university supported start up to bring this future to the present. One of his backers is Ron Lord, entrepeneur in sexbots, while we also have an evangelical Christian called Claire making an appearance. The allusions to the life of Shelley, with Lord Byron as inspiration to Ron and Claire being the stepsister of Mary, where a bit too gimmicky for me. Especially the Ron character quickly moved from funny to a walking stereotype in my opinion, and how everyone just happens to meet and know everyone else, also strained belief. Finally a lot of CAPITALISED sentences made some of the characters feel like giddy teenagers.

Still we are presented with beautiful imaginery, like Ry Shelley who visits a cryogenic storage of frozen heads. Or how she offers amputated bodyparts to her lover Victor Stein, who casually plays with these in his office while they are bickering. In terms of horror I loved how he reanimated these body parts as “living” hands, study objects controlled by electricity, working in unison like spiders.

Language, Themes and Quotes
”Only in the living of it does life seem ordinary.”
What I generally liked are the concepts Winterson dove into in this section of the book.

What it means to be human if we can just be a digital and bodyless mind for instance.

Or what our relationship with robots should be and if contact with such “mindless” companions could make people more happy than interactions with real humans.

And the question which people we should make immortal and through what means (”Is Donald Trump getting his brain frozen? asks Ron. Max explains that the brain has to be fully functioning at clinical death.”)

One of the most poignant questions that came back in this section is apparently a quote from the historical Shelley: ”What is the point of progress if it benefits the few while the many suffer?”

All in all Jeanette Winterson offers a deeply human, passionate and warm view on humanity.
What our future could be, taking into account the quirks of our imperfect bodies and, above all, our hearts.
Ry Shelley says it best: “The riot in my head is unseen. What I am thinking, what I am feeling, are private Bedlams of my own. I manage my own madness just as you do. And if my heart is broken it keeps beating.”
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
683 reviews1,050 followers
January 10, 2020
DNF @ page 209

Nothing against the book at all, I’m just not the right audience for it.
Also I’m unwell at the moment and my tolerance level is much lower than it would usually be.

A couple of quotes I liked.

“The body can be understood as a life support for the brain.”

“Sanity is the thread through the labyrinth of the Minotaur. Once cut, or unravelled, all that lies in wait are gloomy tunnels unfathomable by any map, and what hides there is a beast in human form, wearing our own face.”
Profile Image for Morgan M. Page.
Author 9 books680 followers
July 25, 2019
Entertaining, but a characterization of a trans person that swings between mildly to wildly offensive - and that's setting aside that the only person of colour in the entire book is a two-dimensional racist stereotype. That Winterson is promoting this book about a trans protagonist by arguing against healthcare for trans teens is especially odious.
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books890 followers
June 6, 2020
Imaginative fiction pulling from a variety of sources. Notably Mary Shelley, the person, Frankenstein, the book, concept, and character, and a hodgepodge of hot topics, such as technology, transgender issues, and Brexit. Think queer theory and postmodernism applied to Frankenstein. Then apply Frankenstein to sex dolls.

The idea is fantastic and is well-executed most of the time. Probably not intended for casual summer reading, however. If I were in the middle of writing a thesis on Frankenstein, I'm sure I would relish every page and want to write 5,000 words on how Winterson futurizes Mary Shelley.

As it is, I'm only a slightly above-average Frankenstein enthusiast. It's one of my favorite books for sure, but I didn't have it memorized enough to fully 'get' Frankissstein. At least not enough to find it particularly entertaining. About halfway through the novelty wore off and the storyline got too confusing for me to follow with any serious interest.

Certainly a fine achievement in writing, and lovers of the Shelleys will discover plenty to admire, but--for me--too philosophical without a concise narrative.
Profile Image for Jackie.
144 reviews43 followers
October 17, 2019
jesus christ this was a mess - and jeanette winterson is one of my favourite writers! written on the body is such an important book to me and doesn’t rely on binary understandings of gender and romance that rocked my entire world in the best way.

surprisingly, the most redeeming part of this book for me was the reimagining of mary shelley and the silly actual frankenstein references. i found the narrative arcs overall were engaging, kind of in the way White Teeth by Zadie Smith is, but much pulpier. too many sex robots.

the real nails in the coffin for this book is how this entire book is so horrifically transphobic and misinformed and weirdly racist and tropey for the like, two sentences there are descriptions of the one person of colour.

i personally think it is so irresponsible to publish work like this that acts like people will just know how the characters are behaving is transphobic garbage - because i hope that winterson didn’t do this intentionally, because many people still hold deeply transphobic beliefs. and in interviews about this book she’s been so messy about trans identity - i’m all for dismantling binaries understandings of gender but she is coming from a place of being like “gender doesn’t matter blah!” which is fine, to a degree, but there are real consequences of social constructs even if they’re not quantifiably real. and she brutalizes her trans character! the lack of kindness and care here is appalling and uneducated.

this is such a deeply irresponsible narrative about trans people under the guise of a queer/lesbian identified writer being edgy and philosophical about AI and whatever.

sweet Ry, who has such a strong start as a character is fetishized by a transphobic and gross partner, and despite this gross dynamic i was hopeful Ry would get through this book otherwise physically safely but that was too much to ask for. their non binary trans identity is butchered. they are constantly misgendered, dead named, and harassed to the point where it’s not making a statement about transphobic harassment, you’re just putting salt in the wound. everyone OBSESSES over Ry’s junk.

Ry is also violently GRATUITOUSLY randomly s**ually assaulted to the point where i was literally sick to my stomach, because it was handled so disgustingly poorly. i hate saying this word because it’s been coopted at inappropriate times but i was actually deeply triggered and messed up because it came out of nowhere, and anyone who’s been through that, doesn’t need to go through it again!!!! with no warning!!!! like who is this book for?

i’m in the camp that writers and artists are supposed to expand our world, not just replicate and magnify the fucked up realities we already experience.

i’m not interested in writers being executors of morals or a sterile, perfectly politically correct work - i’m interested in respect and empathy for your subjects and creating a rich inner world and relationships. and these issues are real and we need stories about abuse and violence. trans people do experience more violence and harassment. but there’s a way to write it respectfully and feels authentic!

i believe it is vital to come from well informed place if you’re writing about a community you are not a part of, and it feels like this is so unimportant. these narratives affect public discourse - after Ry is violently assaulted they say something like, “this wasn’t the first time and this wouldn’t be the last”. it literally made me burst into tears - nobody needs to read or feel that. and we don’t need to be putting those kinds of sentiments out into the world. we already think them, we know. if you’re writing a book about the future, imagine something new. please.

i have no time or patience for this gross lack of care for trans characters, and absolutely no real attempt to understand of what it means to move through the world while trans.

it just sucks that a writer who i thought was writing for me, a queer femmeish person who has some gender weirdness, is not. at all. this feels like trauma porn to encite empathy in cis readers by inflicting never ending harm in a really unthoughtful way - we need to talk about all this bullshit, but you have to do it right.
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,106 reviews3,877 followers
January 4, 2023
Prometheus usurped the power of the gods by stealing fire and creating humans from clay. In Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein - the Modern Prometheus” a human uses electricity to create a new sort of being from body parts.

Winterson interweaves the well-documented origin story of Frankenstein (the Shelleys, Byron, and others staying in the Swiss Alps, drinking, talking, walking, having sex) with a near-future story of using robots, cryogenics, and AI to go further. A promising premise, but the creatures are sexbots, and one of the main characters is trans, which opens a Pandora’s box of troublesome analogies and some lame humour.

The Winterson tropes I love (liturgically recurring phrases, echoes through time, rejection of binaries, literary references, motherless protagonist, roles and reinvention, and the power of myth, stories, and naming) are all plentiful in Mary’s story, but in the other stream, they’re drowned by an increasingly ridiculous plot in which cartoonish caricatures have crass arguments and expositional soliloquies about Big Issues.
4* for the historical fiction; barely 1* for the rest.

Image: Villa Diodati on the banks of Lake Geneva, where the Shelleys and Byrons stayed. Edching by Edward Finden. (Source)

Transgender is not transhuman

I am liminal, cusping, in between, emerging undecided, transitional, experimental, a start-up (or is that an upstart?) in my own life.

The handling of the central trans character made me increasingly uncomfortable. It's not the abuse and assault he suffers, nor the fact his ambiguity is a fetishistic attraction for some - all sadly realistic. It’s because that’s never really challenged. Ry is always reduced to biology, even by himself: “we are our bodies”. No one just accepts him as he is without making it an Issue, and we don’t learn much else about him.

Ry identifies as a trans man, but he often sounds non-binary. That’s fine for him as a person, but it confuses people in the book and probably some readers too:
I am not one thing, one gender. I live with doubleness.” and “I am a woman. And I am a man.
More positively: “Surgery… I didn’t do it to distance myself from myself. I did it to get nearer to myself.

Transphobic characters and a bathroom incident fit the fact that trans people are more likely to be victims than perpetrators, but I think Winterson uses the trans protagonist as an easy trope that is reductive and makes disrespectful false equivalences.
We’re all here as something we’re not… playing a role.
You chose to intervene in your own evolution… You are both exotic and real… a harbinger of the future.
There are several kinds of mind-body dysmorphia, but I don’t equate “changing” sex with attaching a brain to a new body in a quest for extreme longevity or gaining powers from digital implants: transhumanism is not like being transgender.

I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone struggling with their gender identity or wanting insight into trans lives.

See final section of this review for more information.


The historical story has a mythic feel and layering typical of Winterson: stories within stories, whether someone is the teller or the tale, and whether the tale is the cause or symptom of madness, all twisted in tangles of time.

There’s another level too: Frankenstein’s creator’s creator (Mary Wollstonecraft) was inadvertently killed by her own creation (she died giving birth to Mary Shelley). I got that from a limerick in a stocking-filler, A History of the World in 100 Limericks: There was an Old Geezer called Caesar.

Image: Ada Lovelace (Byron’s daughter) and the history of computing feature. (Source)


The opening words of some chapters make a dreamy sequence:
“Reality is water-soluble.
Reality bends in the heat.
Humankind cannot bear very much reality. That is why we invent stories.
Reality cannot bear very much of humankind.
Reality is now.
What is the temperature of reality?
Reality is not now.
Reality is your hand on my heart.
Hope is a duty. Hope is our reality.
Reality is… what?”

• “The story told by every religion… the earth is fallen, reality is an illusion, our souls will live forever.” [Cryogenics is an alternative]

• “We are lucky, even the worst of us, because daylight comes.” [Quoting themself in Lighthousekeeping.]

• “We are the shaping spirits of our destiny.” [attrib to Mary Shelley]

• “My skin is covered in beads of clear water as though I have been embroidered with water.” [attrib to MS]

• “Inventing stories… I became my own ladder and trapdoor to other worlds. I was my own disguise.” [the solitary MS, but probably JW as well]

• “I want to hold this moment. I want to believe it. I want his love to have enough salt in it to float me… I want to trust him. I don’t trust him.”

• “The opposite of the past is the present.”

• “Time will find us out but not yet. Enough to sleep in the temporary forever of now.”

• “There’s no such thing as underage sex if it’s a bot.” [Are sexbots a way to exorcise or exercise taboo desires?]

See also

• I think of myself as a Winterson fan, so it pained me to write this review, especially as the last book of theirs I read earlier this year was also 2* for me. All my Winterson reviews are HERE.

• I’m also an Atwood fan who’s been disappointed in her recent works, especially The Heart Goes Last, which has many of the same issues as this, including a silly take on sexbots. See my review HERE, including “Overall, this starts off as speculative fiction and ends up as dystopian farce. It reads like a rehash of ideas Atwood has done better before”. The same is true of this.

• The opening line of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 53, “What is your substance, whereof are you made”, recurs. The second line, “That millions of strange shadows on you tend?” doesn’t.

Other literary references include:
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
The Winter’s Tale
Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
2001: A Space Odyssey
Orpheus and Eurydice
Lot (Old Testament)

Updates re Winterson’s opinions about trans people, gender, and pronouns

Winterson is a lesbian feminist. Like many people, it seems that Winterson’s views have changed over time. As far as I can tell, Winterson believes gender is not binary, and is often fluid, but is not in favour of under 18s having puberty blockers or other medical interventions (for example, May 2019, HERE). Winterson hates the “‘what’s a real woman, what’s a real man’ conversation. It’s like being back in the 1950s.” (May 2019, HERE) In September 2020, Winterson explicitly made a statement in support of trans and non-binary people, partly to counter some of what Rowling has said (HERE).

I can’t find any reference to Winterson’s preferred pronouns, but in this interview in 2019, Winterson said, “I don’t really think of myself as female or male, I just think of myself as me. I’m not even sure I see myself as human.” . Thus I’ve changed pronouns to they/them, but won’t immediately go back to edit older reviews of their work.

Nevertheless, there are multiple issues:
1. Are characters in the book transphobic?
Unquestionably, yes. That's realistic.
2. Is it OK to write about transphobes in fiction?
Also yes. They exist in the world.
3. Is Winterson transphobic?
Not from what I've read, though I expect some think she's not as pro-trans as she could be.
4. Even if Winterson were transphobic, would it be OK to write fiction with that slant?
Yes. I wouldn't ban it unless it were actively encouraging real-world hate crimes, but I would avoid it.
5. Is the trans character lazily written, with dodgy analogies, in a puerile and messy storyline?
Very much, yes.
Profile Image for Lisa.
974 reviews3,328 followers
August 29, 2019
When Jeanette Winterson steps into the mind of Mary Shelley, and her creature(s), we are likely to be off on a rollercoaster poetry slam in prose.

I don't know what it is with Jeanette Winterson, but she manages to have her very personal story interwoven with the most universal human questions while focusing mainly on the power of the magical sentence structure to convey meaning.

In a way, this is a highly contemporary reflection on where humanity is heading, philosophically and technologically speaking. The celebrities (political and otherwise) trending on Twitter have cameo appearances, and the vital question of immortality is put into a new perspective when moved out of the religious context and into the realm of scientific feasibility. 55 million people die every year. Do we really want them all to come back, supposing it is possible? Do we want to be able to preserve our brains, to rejuvenate our ageing bodies? Do we really want to live forever, forever young? (As the song goes!)

When the story of the making of the novel Frankenstein is blended with our temporary confusion, it becomes obvious that being a creator comes with a responsibility that humanity is notoriously bad at taking. What are we going to do with the power we set free when we create life in a completely new fashion?

The conflict between Frankenstein and the monster will return with a vengeance... and Jeanette Winterson has written the story to match reality as we might know it...
Profile Image for Meike.
1,473 reviews2,307 followers
August 5, 2019
Now Nominated for the Booker Prize 2019
This novel is Winterson's monster: Pieced together from the history of Mary Shelley writing the classic Frankenstein, the plot of aforementioned classic and a new storyline focusing on artificial intelligence, Winterson has unevenly sewn together different components and brought them to life - well, at least partly. The author is a God-like figure in her own narrative universe, so you could argue that Winterson is also a "modern Prometheus" (which is the subtitle of "Frankenstein"). In order to explore the human urge to create life and submit nature versus the longing to be seen and loved as an imperfect, but unique person, Winterson jumps around between timelines and personnel, juxtaposing, mirroring and paralleling different ideas and even characters.

The first narrative thread tells the story of author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who fell in love and ran away with Percy Bysshe Shelley. She crafted the outline for "Frankenstein" at Lake Geneva, where the couple stayed with Lord Byron, his doctor Polidori, and Mary's stepsister Claire Clairmont who was pregnant from Byron (Mary herself lost many children, which is interesting considering that she wrote a classic about the artificial creation of life). Winterson intersperses her whole narrative with bits and pieces from Mary Shelley's life, especially those connected to the writing of "Frankenstein". Many of the aspects she presents are highly contested though, e.g. the connection to the actual Castle Frankenstein in Germany or that Shelley was inspired by conversations she had with her husband and Byron about Darwin and galvanization - in this book, real life is fiction, too.

Then, there are of course quotes and themes taken from the story of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, and readers should keep in mind that the "monster" starts out as a good character and is then driven to become a criminal because of his loneliness and desperation. In the third narrative thread, we meet all kinds of characters who mirror the other two interwoven stories: There is Victor Stein, a scientist who aims to abolish death by preserving human minds; there is Ry, a transgender doctor (Ry is derived from Mary), who falls in love with Stein; we meet Claire who employs argumentative tricks to merge the belief in God with financially profiting from AI; and Polly (which, especially in 19th century New England, was a nickname for Mary), a journalist trying to portray Stein; and then we have Ron Lord, a sleezy guy selling AI sexbots ("Ronald" derives from Rögnvaldr, meaning "the one who holds the power of the Gods", and his last name alludes to both God and Byron). As you probably assume, there is a myriad of connections here, but the main juxtaposition is that of Ron, who uses AI for financial gain with all the implications that has regarding the degradation of women, and Victor Stein, who is less interested in money, and more in playing God.

Yes, this monster of a book has many tiny parts and many characters, it is often funny and just as often stuck in theoretical and philosophical elaborations played out in dialogue, and Winterson is very much in love with her own creation. While the whole book is filled to the brim with smart ideas and offers a daring composition, I have to admit that the patchiness of the whole thing frequently annoyed me, that some parts seemed repetitive and that a certain smugness that lingers over this text did not really help either ("look what I can do! and this! and this!!" - yeah, calm down, Winterson).

Still, this is a smart, experimental book that dares to go places, written by a highly intelligent author who loves to be bold and play Dr. Frankenstein - and isn't this what we want from a writer?
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,254 reviews49 followers
August 19, 2019
Longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize
This is another of the books some of us will be discussing face to face, so once again the review is in spoiler tags (now removed!):

This book is clever, readable and very funny, if sometimes baffling. It is inspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the story of its creation, but also by recent developments in artificial intelligence and the concentration of money and power in the hands of ever smaller elites. There are several layers of story, which are mixed together a short chapter of the time. One reimagines the events and conversations of the Lake Geneva "holiday" which led Mary Shelley to write the book, one is a near future farce which loosely reenacts the Frankenstein story, narrated by a trans hero/ine Ry Shelley, and another imagines Victor Frankenstein himself coming to life and confronting his creator.
I would probably have understood more of this if I had actually read Shelley's novel, but the whole is a wild trip, clever but sometimes bordering on insanity. I can't really do justice to it in a short review, so I urge you to read it yourselves.
Profile Image for Neale .
285 reviews126 followers
August 27, 2019

Mary Shelly’s classic novel is about the creation of life. The creation of a creature made of multiple body parts, brought to life with a bolt of electricity. This novel deals not so much with creation, but with the transference of consciousness to a digital form enabling humanity to cheat death, to attain immortality. However, this is a massive simplification of the narrative, it is so much more, and deals with many issues that are hot topics today, It does this in such great style. The tone of the novel will change from intriguing conversations about Artificial Intelligence, and what actually is reality, consciousness, to hilarious bumbling dialogue about sex bots. Ron Lord the owner of the sex bot company is such a great character providing the narrative with a comic touch every time he enters the story.

This is another novel in which the narrative jumps back and forth in time. The past where Shelly is writing her classic novel, and the present where the protagonist, who is a transgender doctor who meets and falls in love with Victor Stein, who is working on his vison of the future in which our bodies will become irrelevant with our brains transformed into digital data.
Both narratives are exceptional and could easily stand alone as one single story.

Winterson certainly has her finger on the pulse when dealing with the topics which are very much in vogue with the times.

Artificial Intelligence has been a common topic, taking on even more significance when Stephen Hawking declared that Artificial Intelligence, or AI has the possibility to end our existence.

Misogyny and the treatment of women as second- class citizens is another theme explored. In the past narrative, Byron and Shelly continually talk of man being the dominant sex and women little more than reproductive machines and carers, while hypocritically discussing world events with Mary. In the present narrative the invention of sex-bots again relegates women to little more than sex slaves.

Change is another topic which takes place in both narratives. In the past people are worried about the Industrial revolution, the loss of jobs to machines. The present, with society teetering on another technological revolution, encounters the same congruous problem, the loss of jobs to robots and even now, limited AI.

This novel feels very much set in our present. where technology increases at such an alarming rate, that the possibility of a truly sentient AI seems to be just over the horizon. There are so many issues raised by this technology. Should we really develop AI? Will Stephen Hawking’s warning prove prescient? Religions of all forms universally leave the creation of life in the hand of God. However, without our pursuit of science we would not have discovered so many technologies that have improved and saved our lives. Many time these discoveries are found while pursuing other problems. The eradication of diseases which once had the potential to wipe out most of the planet, organ transplants, antibiotics, gender transformation, the list is almost endless, and our technology improves at a faster rate every jump. We almost seem to know everything about the body, apart from the brain and ageing. This novel gives us a tiny peek at what could be just around the corner in the future. It seems inevitable that we will eventually obtains the technology to perform some of the procedures described in this novel. But, just like Pandora should we really open that box?
A thoroughly enjoying read. 4. 5 stars!
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,746 reviews1,195 followers
June 5, 2021
Now re-read, and with additional detail in my review, following its longlisting for the 2019 Booker Prize.

“I am what I am. But what I am is not one thing, not one gender. I live with doubleness”

“What is your substance, whereof you are made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?”

The book takes place in two timelines:

The first starts in 1816. in the rainy mid-year months in Geneva – a bored group of Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, her then lover and future husband Percy Shelley, Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont (Byron’s lover) and Byron’s doctor Polidori, agree on a challenge to write a ghost story – the famous genesis of Mary’s novel Frankenstein.

(As an aside, given this is a book where the author seems unable to see a parallel without cramming into the already overladen plot, I was surprised that some modern day climate change link was not drawn with the volcanic eruption induced “year without a summer” of 1816.)

The second is in Modern day Brexit UK and Trumpian US (and Bolsanaron Brazil). A unlikely group - Ron Lord (an increasingly successful producer of sexbots), (Ma)Ry(an) Shelley (a young transgender doctor), Clare (a Christian working almost underground) as the PA to the owner of a cryonics facility, Polly Dory (a Vanity Fair journalist) - coalesce around Victor Stein.

Stein is an artificial intelligence visionary who is turning his TED talks into practice by reanimating human limbs and even heads as an interim stage towards advancing cryonics into the downloading of human minds. Ron is interested in investing and in seeing if there is an angle for his sexbots, Polly in getting an interview and scoop, Claire in ensuring a Christian angle to the various projects, Ry as his lover and also supplier of body parts.

The two stories progress in parallel –with Mary and Ry as their main first party narrators.

The older story starts as a relatively straight retelling of the genesis of the novel, going over well trodden ground albeit with sympathy and insight. Winterson is keen to draw out the influences on Shelley’s conception of her novel and her subsequent thinking: Artisitic (for example Ovid’s Pygmalion, Shakespeare’s Hermione and Hobbes Leviathan: Political (the machine breakers and the Peterloo riots); Personal (the loss of her children and later her husband)

Some of the unattributed quotes she uses though are from later writers - TS Eliot, Wilfred Owen, Gertrude Stein - hinting at some form of fluidity of time. Best of all is a quote from Jeannette Winterson. And it is perhaps appropriate that a writer who famously voted for herself as the greatest living writer and nominated her own book for a Book of the year feature places herself among such giants.

Parallels are also drawn with the ideas that are explored in the modern storyline. Pygmalion’s statue has “a double transformation from lifeless to life and from male to female” . Thinking on artificial life she muses “Is there such a thing as artificial intelligence? Clockwork has no thoughts. What is the spark of the mind? Could it be made? Made by us?”

That modern story starts as a mix of: exposition heavy dialogue (not entirely absent from the first section where for example the Peterloo riots are explained by way of a clumsy dialogue between the Shelley’s over a newspaper article) – Victor Stein in particular channels his inner TED talk to muse on various developments and ideas in artificial intelligence; characters which could be lifted from a Dan Brown novel (Victor Stein in particular, a sexually magnetic, loft dwelling professor); an exploration of the world of sexbots delivered largely by the outrageously politically incorrect Ron which sometimes tips over the border from humour into prurience.

To be fair to Winterson she very consciously either signals or later acknowledges her intents here: Victor is introduced as having a huge TED following; much later (and well after I had written down the Dan Brown comparison in my notes) we are told “Don’t believe everything you read in Dan Brown”; Ry observes at one point when Ron is in full flow demonstrating his own first sexbot (rather also named Claire)“Some of the boys are enjoying this; I can tell from the rise in their jeans”.

As Stein says to Ry twice ”The future always brings something from the past” and there are numerous echoes of the historic storyline in the modern storyline.

Over time both plot lines evolve.

The past story rather cleverly as in a series of parts narrated by the Director of the Bedlam lunatic asylum, Mary meets her own creation, as Victor Frankenstein is deposited at the hospital by Captain Walton.

The modern story turning (again very consciously and explicitly signalled by Winterson) into an episode of Dr Who ”The room had the look of a bad set from an early episode of Doctor Who” (drawing also on schlock horror B-movie Frankenstein remakes) in the nuclear war tunnels under Manchester as Victor Stein tries to bring an old friend’s head back to life.

One of the key themes of the book is the potential future development of artificial intelligence and human/machine interfaces and hybrids.

Winterson explores what that future might look like - will it be designed by misogynistic geeks, will it be for the benefit of the rootless diaspora of the rich and privileged, or more likely will man in fact have no choice in how the future plays out once a singularity is passed.

Winterson identifies how the future of AI and of mind and body separation actually goes back to ancient views that underlie almost every religion which all tell the same story ”in one form or another: the earth is fallen, reality is an illusion, our souls will live forever. Our bodies are a front - or perhaps more accurately, an affront, to the beauty of our nature as beings of light”

Rather controversially (or is that boldly? Or inappropratiely?) Winterson chooses to link this theme, via the concept of duality and blurring of boundaries (and in choosing to remake your body into the form that your mind wishes it to be) to transgenderism.

And overall it is the theme of duality/doubleness/blurring that as well as giving the book its structure gives it its recurring theme: male and female, mind and body, human and machine, Frankenstein and his monster, an author and their work, life and death, consciousness and body, citizens of somewhere and citizens of nowhere, nationalism and globalisation, ideas and actions.

(One is tempted to add Google and Wikipedia - from which large parts of the text appear to have been extracted - although perhaps even here this patching together of old borrowed parts into a rather monstrous creation is a piece of deliberate signalling on Winterson’s part).

And perhaps most importantly the duality between the past and present and the fluidity of movement between the two. Winterson signals that the real story lies at their intersection

”My story is circular. It has a beginning. It has a middle. It has an end. Yet it does not run as a Roman road from a journey’s start unto its destination. I am, at present, uncertain of the destination. I am sure that the meaning if there is one, lies in the centre.

But the book is subtitled “A Love Story” and it can be seen as that. The historical part is in many parts an examination of the marriage of the Shelley’s and the modern part focuses on the intense relationship between Ry and Stein. Many other relationships are bought in as analogies: M and James Bond; Salome and John The Baptist: King Kong and Fay Wray: Pygmalion and Ovid: Leontes and Hermione; Conrad Dippel (owner of The original Castle Frankenstein) and his wife; Epimetheus and Pandora; Superman and Lois Lane: 0 and 1.

And further we realise that this may not just be two relationships but one.

When Stein first meets Ry we read this exchange: ”Have we met. And the strange, split-second other-world answer is yes.”. When Shelley discussed death of a loved one with Mary he asks ”Who does not hold the body in her arms, frantic to bestow heat and reanimate the corpse.” and we start to see that perhaps Mary partly recast Shelley in the form of her literary creation Frankenstein who she meets again at a party at the close of the historical section. Mary Shelley ending up in love with her own literary creation and that relationship reappearing in the modern day.

There are passages of time that tell more like text than time, when we sense a story we repeat, or a story that is told .... The teller or the tale? I don’t know

We are many, he said. Many Shelleys, many Mary’s. many stand behind us tonight in spirit, and we shall do the same when we are done here”

This is my first book by Jeanette Winterson and it is certainly an interesting and entertaining one – while not always entirely successful.

At times it’s hard not to have the impression that Winterson is also in love with her own literary creation.

Of course some of the themes – in particular man and machine, artificial intelligence, Turing are exactly those examined in Ian McEwan’s “Machines Like Me” and while this is a much better book, my overall conclusion is the same:

If you are looking for challenging literature, and for a real examination of these topics, then look no further than the joint-winner of the 2019 Republic of Consciousness Prize (now going on to sweep other award nominations) Will Eaves Murmur.

Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,397 reviews800 followers
January 8, 2023
“Yeah, you can be old, you can be ugly, you can be fat, smelly, you can have an STD, you can be broke. Whether you can’t get it up, or you can’t get it down, there’s an XX-BOT for you. Public service. I tell you, it is. Do you think I might get an MBE? Mum would love that.”

Well, that was certainly different! Even for Winterson, whom I always enjoy, this was an inventive, imaginative blend of past, present, and future. It is also a cautionary tale of “be careful what you wish for”.

The speaker of the above is Ron Lord, promoter of sexbots that cater for all. Winterson is playful with names, and there does come a time when the name “Lord” does get a turn.

Victor is another. Victor Stein is a current-day doctor investigating self-designing brains and cryonics, while Victor Frankenstein is the doctor in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s famous novel about his creation of a monster (whom we usually refer to as Frankenstein now). Mary’s name crops up as Ry, who is gender-fluid.

“When I look in the mirror I see someone I recognise, or rather, I see at least two people I recognise. . . . I am what I am, but what I am is not one thing, not one gender. I live with doubleness.”

The three stories alternate, but they do overlap in unusual ways. It begins with Mary, who was married young to poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and wrote Frankenstein when she was only 19 years old. She was the daughter of famous feminist, author, philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft who died shortly after the birth.

Mary ran with a cool crowd – the poets. Doesn’t this sound like a current crop of celebrities holidaying and partying together? Keeping Up With The Poets?

“In the summer of 1816 the poets Shelley and Byron, Byron’s physician, Polidori, Mary Shelley and her stepsister, Claire Clairmont, by then Byron’s mistress, rented two properties on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Byron enjoyed the grand Villa Diodati, while the Shelleys took a smaller, more charming house, a little lower down the slope. Such was the notoriety of the households that an hotel on the farther shore of the lake set up a telescope for their guests to watch the antics of the supposed Satanists and Sexualists who held their women in common.”

Mary was bright (she edited her husband’s work) and outspoken, but the boys often put her in her place, especially Lord Byron, who was about ten years older.

“Byron is of the opinion that woman is from man born – his rib, his clay – and I find this singular in a man as intelligent as he. I said, It is strange, is it not, that you approve of the creation story we read in the Bible when you do not believe in God? He smiles and shrugs, explaining – It is a metaphor for the distinctions between men and women. He turns away, assuming I have understood and that is the end of the matter, but I continue, calling him back as he limps away like a Greek god. May we not consult Doctor Polidori here, who, as a physician, must know that since the creation story no living man has yet given birth to anything living? It is you, sir, who are made from us, sir.

The gentlemen laugh at me indulgently. They respect me, up to a point, but we have arrived at that point.”

[Oh, don’t you want to slap the man? ARGH! “. . . assuming I have understood and that is the end of the matter.” The man gets the last word.

Mary’s story covers several years of her life, how she is inspired to write and then frightened of her creation. Nightmares, recriminations. The monster’s story is told as if it is real – a kind of AI gone awry.

“The monster I have made is shunned and feared by humankind. His difference is his downfall. He claims no natural home. He is not human, yet the sum of all he has learned is from humankind.”

Back to the future (today), and the sexbot promoter and the brain-developer, Victor Stein. His claim to fame is his theory that the future is not biology, it is AI. Artificial Intelligence.

“He said, I called this lecture The Future of Humans in a Post-Human World because artificial intelligence is not sentimental – it is biased towards best possible outcomes. The human race is not a best possible outcome.”

There are a couple of love stories woven through this with tenderness, passion, sex, and betrayal. The parts that appealed to me were Mary with her poets and Ry with Victor (brains) and Ron Lord (sexbots). I didn’t care much for the monster and poor Victor Frankenstein, but of course, that’s the story that holds the rest together.

There’s history – the Luddites smash looms because they don’t want “progress”, which means being replaced by machines. And we meet [author:Ada Lovelace|3950749], Lord Byron’s daughter, who is credited with writing the first algorithm for a ‘mathematical machine’ (first computer). She was featured as recently as 2020 in Spyfall 2 and an episode of Dr. Who. There is an Ada Lovelace medal and an annual Ada Lovelace day. But I digress.

With Winterson, there’s also humour, and she makes the most of Ron Lord and his sexbots with something for everybody. The descriptions of how to transport them (folding, etc) are hilarious, as are many of the supporting characters in this remarkable book.

“And over to Vintage. I love the two-piece suit and pillbox hat. I got this idea from the retro-porn sites. She’s late to the game but she brings plenty to the party.”

I'm sorry I've not shown examples of Winterson's chameleon-like ability to change voice, and style, and time, and character. Every person is their own self, if I can put it like that, and the descriptions of time and place suit each of them.

There are no quotation marks, and the e-book version in my Kindle messed up the formatting, so that I had to refer to the NetGalley PDF from time to time to figure out which time period I was in and who was speaking. I was so frustrated, I nearly gave up, but I trusted that Winterson would get me home safely (and she did). I've now seen the real e-book, and it's fine.

Thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted. I can see why it made the 2019 Booker Prize longlist.
Profile Image for Trudie.
520 reviews552 followers
June 24, 2019
What an unexpected mid-winter highlight. After casting aside all my "should-be" reading books I decided to bust my way out of a reading slump by picking up this new book by Jeanette Winterson - an author I have never read. This was a particularly risky undertaking given my recent tussle with another author who also decided to play with robots ( I am not saying that book spectacularly failed but it wasn't great ).

Winterson's novel is a delightful treat for readers who have ever wondered about the potential for sexbots to take over the world. I don't think I have ever laughed for the entirety of two straight chapters before, but good Lord ! Ron Lord !. I am making this book sound like a comedy but it isn't. It is just that Winterson does humorously salacious excruciatingly well.

Frankisstein is such an orgy of ideas. In no particular order it is an homage to Frankenstein, a thought experiment on what it means to be human and/or post human ? A primer on cryopreservation, a lovely recognition of female scientists ( yes ! Rosalind Franklin and your valuable contribution to discovering DNA ) a biography of the Shelleys, and a novel with a central transgender character.
Opinions may vary on if this all works together, for me it did - I accepted this novel as a very interesting kind of philosophising on our technological future. But it also struck me as a novel that is asking some serious questions about misogyny, past, present and future.

Being a new reader to Winterson I was delighted to find her style shares similarities with other authors I enjoy. She has Margaret Atwood's humour and eye for gender politics and more than a touch of Ali Smith's skill in her wry observations of current events.

Fascinating book and surely a highlight of my reading year.

(If only Winterson and McEwan could get together to solve the enigma of robotic thrust, perhaps Ian could share his sketches for the distilled water gadget his robots have ... )
Profile Image for But_i_thought_.
175 reviews1,452 followers
July 31, 2019
To me, this book is an example of fictional instrumentalism in action — fiction written for the purpose of teaching the reader, as opposed to fiction as art. While on some level all fiction is imbued with meaning, some writing is more blunt in its messaging — and as a result, less effective in my opinion.

Told in two parallel narratives, the story follows Mary Shelley in the 19th century as she grapples with the genesis of Frankenstein, as well as “Ry Shelley” in the present day, a trans doctor involved with characters at the forefront of AI research. As expected, both narratives mirror each other thematically.

While the historical narrative is a lyrical nod to the Victorian Gothic tradition, the present day narrative is a hot mess, buried under the weight of Winterson’s research. We get frequent brain dumps on the topics Winterson wishes us to examine — from artificial intelligence to sex bots to machine learning to transhumanism — narrated by characters who are mere talking props. The trans protagonist, particularly, is a non-character whose obligatory public bathroom assault scene is so tangential to the story — and so fleetingly handled — that it does a disservice to the issues raised. In Winterson’s hands, the lesson value of a scene takes precedence over character development and plot coherence.

The result is a lumbering beast of a novel, bursting at the seams of its thematic ambition, yet frequently stumbling over its own limbs.

Mood: Chaotic and didactic
Rating: 6/10

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Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,040 followers
August 31, 2019
Okay I waited as long as I could to give in and read this ARC. I read all 352 pages on the night which also happened to be Jeanette Winterson's 60th birthday. She interweaves Mary Shelley with a 21st century transgender doctor named Ry - both are obsessed in different ways with concepts of bodies and creation. Themes of gender, found families, sex, creation, and love flow throughout but it's delightful to read and I devoured it. Please keep Winterson for the short list, Man Booker judges.

I received a copy from the publisher. It doesn't come out in the United States until October!
Profile Image for Blaine.
728 reviews580 followers
July 29, 2020
“I do not know if I am the teller or the tale.”
“If God hadn’t wanted us to tamper with things, She wouldn’t have given us brains.”
“The body that must fail and fall is not the end of the human dream.”

Frankissstein takes place in two timelines. The book opens with the famous real-life 1816 Lake Geneva gathering between 18-year-old Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, John Polidori and Clair Clairmont. Lord Byron proposes that each of them craft a scary tale to tell the group. Mary “contemplate[s] what it is about man that distinguishes us from the rest of biology, and what distinguishes us from machines,” and begins to write Frankenstein. Over the years that follow, she continues to meditate on the ideas she raised in that book, meets Charles Babbage and his analytical machine, and comes face-to-face with someone claiming to be Victor Frankenstein. These sections are elegantly written, almost as if lifted from that era.

Meanwhile, in the present, a (mad?) scientist Victor Stein is experimenting with artificial intelligence and how to upload human consciousness into a robot or computer. He enlists a transgender doctor Ry Shelley and a sexbot manufacturer Ron Lord to help with his plans, while a journalist Polly D and a religious woman named Claire serve as sometimes foils and sometimes allies. The similarities of the names in the two timelines are but one parallel between them. These sections are written like contemporary fiction, and range from very philosophic to downright raunchy.

This book is not plot-driven, or even character-driven, so much as it is propelled by discussions of ideas. I would not pretend that I followed all of the arguments made, or that I caught all of the allusions to Frankenstein; I was intrigued enough by the story that I read the book pretty quickly. But this book raises big questions. Can our body be thought of as a machine for our mind or a soul? What does that mean in a near-future sure to include prosthetic enhancements, smart implants, genetic modification, and greater use of cryogenics? If we could abandon our body altogether for an uploaded existence where our consciousness resides in a robot or online, would that be monstrous or simply the next step in human evolution?

There may not be answers to the deep questions it poses, but Frankissstein is a highly original, wild tale. Recommended.
October 23, 2022
An impressively layered, propulsive, inventive novel by the great Winterson. Positively mind-blowing.

My question is, Could it possibly be that a novel which looks to the past and links itself undyingly to the already monumentally literary -- Mary Shelley's Frankenstein -- actually comes to accomplish -- brings forth -- the new, the real(ly) new and the newly past even more palpably? Could this be one brilliant way of doing that?

And, in turn, what I glimpse is libraries of books, of the Borgesian kind, yet to be (re-re-re-)inspired by this literary creation.

[More thoughts to follow...]
Profile Image for Ace.
430 reviews23 followers
July 15, 2019
I wasn't sure what to expect from this title as I have never read the classic Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, however it made little difference to the fun I had in reading this retelling of sorts.

Mostly it's about Mary Shelley and her sad back-story of children lost to disease in her short relationship with her husband Percy, and also about the writing of the story of her monster Frankenstein and then it flips to our modern day search for eternal or extended life. Most of the modern characters are quirky and the story focuses upon the trans lead character Ry, their own past and struggles with the present as those around them seek to build a better world, irrespective of the morality? of their endeavours. It's a hodgepodge of ideas and I don't claim to have understood them all but I have certainly thought a lot about the future and where we are headed. The way that Winterson brings everything together is enlightening, sad and incredibly funny.

With thanks to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,009 reviews4,004 followers
August 7, 2019
A splendid recasting of Mary Shelley’s legacy, two centuries since the publication of Frankenstein. Transmogrifying the tale to the world of sexbots and stem-cell cryogenics, the novel is comprised of energetic colloquies, comic and contemplative, on the coldness of artifical intelligence, the various orifices of sexbots, the self-selected monsterly qualities of trans people, and the irrelevance of the soul in a world without death. Back in the 1800s, Shelley spars with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe, and uncovers a man in Bedlam claiming to be Victor himself. As in Ali Smith’s seasons quintet, Winterson places literary lessons at the forefront of her modern narrative, in this case the warnings from Shelley (i.e. not to fire electrodes into the decapitated heads of corpses in pursuit of immortality), making the novel a passionate paean to past masters, and a comical clarion call to future fuckwits.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
652 reviews3,200 followers
August 12, 2019
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.

Read my full review of Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson on LonesomeReader
August 30, 2019
I love Jeanette Winterson, and I think her writing is unique, as well as beautiful. I enjoyed some aspects of this particular book, but not all of it. It is typical Winterson from the onset, but for me, something was definitely missing.

When I started reading this, I honestly thought that I was going to absolutely love it, especially when we get a strong historical fiction kind of feel. Then suddenly, we are forwarded to the present day, where we meet Ry Shelley and Victor Stein. We are then unfortunate enough to meet Ron, who sells sex bots for a living. I disliked Ron with a passion, and I could have happily read this book without him in it.

I thought when sex bots were introduced things felt a little weird, and even though I wasn't put off, I honestly don't think that the sex bots plot slid in well with the main story.

This story has the usual dose of sex that Winterson is entirely grand at writing about, but her characters did not thrill me like I expected. I wasn't completely flawed by her story, and I've been left slightly disappointed with this one. I also noticed, that the female characters were portrayed as being pretty much clueless. This surprised me more than anything else. I love a strong female character, and yet, this just wasn't delivered.

I wouldn't recommend this book for first time Winterson readers, as one may be disappointed. If you want a taste of just how amazing Winterson is, look no further than "Written on the body" It blew my mind.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,112 reviews1,383 followers
September 8, 2019
Frankissstein was a bit meandering, but I loved nearly every minute of it, from its discussions of AI and resurrecting the dead, to the reimagining of Mary Shelley's life, to the time spent with sexbots and their makers. As a novel, I'm not sure it all quite works together, but I'm hard pressed to think of another book that's as likable, outrageously funny, and just plain outrageous as this one is. All admiration to its creator.
Profile Image for Pedro .
184 reviews388 followers
May 24, 2021
This novel came to my attention after being longlisted for the Booker Prize back in 2019 and has been sitting on my bookshelf ever since. It feels like two centuries have gone by, doesn’t it?! Ugh!

Anyway, let’s not go down that road...

So, at the time I was pretty sure I’d never heard of Jeanette Winterson before and if I had I obviously didn’t pay her name the attention she so well deserves.

Because, let’s be honest, this novel deserves a prize just for its title alone. Who wouldn’t want to come up with such a clever and funny idea?!

Ah, the joys of good old wordplay...

And because time is precious, I’m going tell you right away that yes, the cleverness and amusement implied in the title are a pure reflection of the entire book.

What a joy of a reading experience this was: intelligent and funny, philosophical and sexy. Yes, you’ve read it correctly; sexy!!

Truth be told, there was quite a lot going on all the time and the characters weren’t quite as well fleshed out as I always want characters to be but that didn’t bother me at all because I quickly realised and accepted what Winterson was wanting to deliver.

You see, it’s not like I am what you’d call the biggest fan of speculative and/or historical fiction but here I could have gone on and on and on...

And if only you could see all the post-its sticking out of my copy; all those little paper tongues mocking the world outside the pages.

It’s good to think. And to have fun.

And as it turned out this was (obviously) also a love story: the writing completely stole the show and I fell in love with it.
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