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Frankissstein Reviews

Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson

Frankissstein: A Love Story

Jeanette Winterson

3.51 out of 5

13 reviews

Imprint: Jonathan Cape Ltd
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publication date: 21 May 2019
ISBN: 9781787331402

From 'one of the most gifted writers working today' (New York Times) comes an audacious new novel about the bodies we live in and the bodies we desireIn Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love - against their better judgement - with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI.

1 Prize for Frankissstein

Man Booker Prize
2019 Longlist

Chair of the 2019 Booker Prize judges, Peter Florence, said:

“If you only read one book this year, make a leap. Read all 13 of these. There are Nobel candidates and debutants on this list. There are no favourites; they are all credible winners. They imagine our world, familiar from news cycle disaster and grievance, with wild humour, deep insight and a keen humanity. These writers offer joy and hope. They celebrate the rich complexity of English as a global language. They are exacting, enlightening and entertaining. Really – read all of them.”

Reviews

4 stars out of 5
12 Jun 2019

"playful and inventive novel"

Jeanette Winterson’s playful and inventive novel is alive to this and nowhere trapped, and it comes close to Adam’s idea of connectivity. There is a merged ocean of thought within it; ideas slip between characters and time frames. It stands against the prediction that such a merging of self and other would undo the necessity of literature. Frankissstein reincarnates as it evolves, each part deepening the part before it.

4 stars out of 5
10 Jun 2019

"Jeanette Winterson’s combines earnest concerns with page-turning energy"

All writers revisit the same themes through their career: the perspective, Graham Greene said, is like a shadow moving across a lawn. Like Greene, Winterson combines earnest concerns with page-turning energy. Frankissstein is serious fun.

 

4 stars out of 5

"bold"

Taking Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as her starting point, Winterson’s bold novel asks old questions about the body’s possibilities in a provocative new way. She brings together compelling characters, including a professor of artificial intelligence and a designer of sex dolls, to explore topical ideas of non-biological being.

2 stars out of 5
5 Jun 2019

"Like Mary Shelley’s lightning-born creation, Frankissstein is stitched together from disparate parts."

Perhaps Frankissstein is meant to be satire then, a novel inhabited by ribald characters, in which disbelief should be suspended – though surely not when Winterson is attempting a serious examination of gender fluidity. She has certainly done her research on the possibility of humans transcending their physical form, yet this novel is too historically grounded to be an utterly contemporary story, neither funny nor reflective enough to work as satire, and its structure is chaotic. Tonally, the closest comparison is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but without a Tim Curry to be confused and amused by. In the exclamation mark-laden conversations I was even reminded of the experimental literary agitator Stewart Home.

3 stars out of 5
Claire Allfree
30 May 2019

"a techno-novel with hardware too smart for its own good"

Winterson has long been interested in the politics of identity, and is good here on the way our aspirations and anxieties about AI tap into ancient and eternal human dreams of perfectibility. The narrative patterning is also, initially, highly satisfying. Doubling and interconnectedness proliferate everywhere, from the macro (overlapping anxieties about the impact of both the Industrial Revolution and AI on skilled workers, on the body, on the soul) to the micro (the characters in both time frames eat wine and cheese in moments of intimacy). One half of the book is saturated in the restless melancholy of the Victorian Gothic, the other in the ruthless sterility of Silicon Valley. After a while, however, the novel’s clever hardware starts to feel gimmicky... The penultimate scenes in Victor’s underground lab feel like a cheap horror flick.

  • The GuardianBook of the Day
4 stars out of 5
Johanna Thomas-Corr
20 May 2019

" It’s fun to be in her company. And I wasn’t expecting fun."

At an advanced stage of a prolific career, Jeanette Winterson has had a surge of inventiveness. Frankissstein, her playful reanimation of Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic, gamely links arms with the zeitgeist. It’s a book about artificial intelligence and gender fluidity that also harks back to themes Winterson has been writing about for the past 30 years: love and desire, transformation and the unwritten meanings of the body...Thankfully, Winterson’s prose is more animated by curiosity than by any particular agenda. She throws together disparate characters in a way that’s reminiscent of AM Homes, while her puns and send-ups of contemporary culture have a lot in common with Ali Smith. Winterson, I think, writes with a great deal more snap. It’s fun to be in her company. And I wasn’t expecting fun. I was expecting something self-conscious (the less said about the title, the better) and self-important.

4 stars out of 5
20 May 2019

"frequently dazzling"

[W]hile Winterson has lots of fun finding cute references and echoes across her narratives and centuries, it doesn’t do to expect too literal parallels. Often, they are crunchy instead. Having a trans character positioned as the architect of their own body (“I am what I am, but what I am is not one thing, not one gender. I live with doubleness.”) at first seems to sit uneasily with the idea of Frankenstein’shorrific cut-and-spliced monster. In fact, Ry’s doubleness sits closer to Shelley’s growing recognition of the intertwined essential nature of her own creations: that Doctor Frankenstein and his monster are themselves dual, doubled. If this sounds heavy-going, it’s really not. Frankissstein is also gleefully Gothic, taking us into a world of underground nuclear bunkers, scampering severed hands and spooky preserved heads. And throughout, Winterson’s approach is light and comic – although in truth, some of the satiric dialogue, especially Ron on his sex-bots, is too crude to be convincing...  [T]he novel is overstuffed; you can sometimes feel the research bursting its stitches. Her characters also too often become clumsy mouthpieces for theories or contentious “takes” on a controversial topic. But the breezy way she handles the sheer number of complex ideas is also frequently dazzling, and ultimately means that this enjoyably audacious novel has no problem coming to life

4 stars out of 5
17 May 2019

"a riotous twist on Mary Shelley’s classic"

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In her new reworking, Jeanette Winterson takes formal as well as thematic inspiration from Shelley’s work. Frankissstein shares with its source text an intricate narrative structure and a preoccupation with both the origins of life and the things that make life worth living. It is no pale imitation though. This is a riotous reimagining with an energy and passion all of its own that reanimates Frankenstein as a cautionary tale for a contemporary moment dominated by debates about Brexit, gender, artificial intelligence and medical experimentation.

4 stars out of 5
Stephanie Cross
16 May 2019

"In a nutshell, first-rate beach fare."

Don’t let that terrible title put you off. This artificial intelligence (AI) love-story-of-sorts is a clever comic romp that teases at the nature — and future — of life, death and what it is to be human, without ever being ponderous... The brushwork is often as broad as the humour, but, as the storylines mesh, there’s also shade: our fantasies stem not just from hubris and vanity, the author suggests, but grief and loneliness, too.

In a nutshell, first-rate beach fare.

2 stars out of 5
Claire Lowdon
12 May 2019

"a monster mash-up of a novel about AI"

[W]hat sort of a novel is this? Historical, sci-fi, postmodern, or, as it promises on the front cover, a love story? Answer: none of the above. It’s a true Frankenstein’s monster, a hybrid of all of them, but it’s missing the spark of life. Instead we have a classic case of the “informative debate novel”. If that sounds a little dull, well, it is... Novelists have to be alchemists; there has to be some hocus-pocus, some transformation of base research materials into fictional gold. Unfortunately for Winterson, Ian McEwan’s new novel, Machines Like Me, is concerned with very similar territory, but McEwan is mage to Winterson’s cheap conjurer... McEwan hooks you in with enough story and interest for you to agree to a bit of necessary lecturing. When medicating their pets, people often hide the pills inside a tasty piece of cheese. Winterson’s novel needs more cheese.

4 stars out of 5

"[a] fast-paced gothic romance"

Winterson has long been interested in physical hybrids and fictional border crossings. In Sexing the Cherry (1989) she used the grafting of cherry trees as a metaphor for the idea that “we are multiple not single”, each human life really being many lives “stacked together like plates on a waiter’s hand” with only the top one showing. Frankissstein develops this idea, not only by using twin narrative timeframes that work like sounding boards for each other, but also by suggesting that modern life confuses many traditional distinctions, such as those between male and female, real and artificial, even life and death. If this sounds rather solemn, like a patchwork of essays on the postmodern condition that Winterson has cobbled together, the good news is that Frankissstein is very funny. There has always been a fine line between horror and high camp, and this is another boundary that Winterson gleefully exploits.

3 stars out of 5
Melanie McDonagh
9 May 2019

"Mary Shelley’s scary creation is revived for the digital age"

The reworking of the original book can get laboured, including the black American Evangelical Christian, Claire, who represents Mary’s dopey stepsister. Ron Lord, however, presumably the priapic Lord Byron, provides the comic element, with his sexbots for all tastes. That bit, at least, of this appalling vision of our future sounds plausible.

2 stars out of 5
Sarah Ditum
1 May 2019

"it calls to mind the dismal experience of someone relating their dreams to you"

The effect of these characters dissolving and re-forming in different locations and across different centuries is like that of entering a dream world – but not in the woozy, disorienting, enjoyable manner of actually dreaming; rather, it calls to mind the dismal experience of someone relating their dreams to you, episodic and incomprehensible to waking logic. Unforgivably, Frankissstein is no fun at all. It should be fizzing and jolting with the pulse of big ideas. It should, given the title (and certainly given that it’s subtitled ‘A Love Story’), be a sexy book... Frankissstein, however, is hopelessly unerotic, despite a fair number of sex scenes. For Winterson, these offer an opportunity to rehearse old arguments about the mind–body relationship... There are gestures here towards exciting, unsettling thoughts about bodies, power and identity, but Winterson never summons the vital force to turn all this into more than a bag of bits.