Book Review: Frankissstein: A love story by Jeanette Winterson

In Frankissstein: A Love Story, Jeanette Winterson, author of mind-expanding, gender-bending, time-shifting fiction, brings to life a new creature cobbled together and electrified by language. 

Picture the scene: Nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley is vacationing at Villa Diodati in the company of her stepsister Clair Clairmont Romantic bad boy poets Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, and Byron’s physician William Polidori. The summer is dark and damp; nothing stays dry and even her underclothes are molding. Then one evening Byron challenges his guests to write ghost stories, leading Mary to have a monstrous dream that sparks her most famous work—Frankenstein, a novel that has endured for over 200 years. 

Winterson weaves this story through Frankissstein. Mary has already lost so much—her mother, her firstborn—and considers these losses as she experiences the pains and promises of love (“How would I love you, my lovely boy, if you had no body?” she muses to Percy, and then, “I cannot divide you.”) 

But Winterson does not leave readers in 1816. Instead, she time hops to the present (the future?), and fills this space, too, with love, loss, and philosophical speculation. She populates Frankissstein with a transgender doctor (Ry Shelley), an AI-obsessed professor (Victor Stein), a sex doll inventor and marketer (Ron Lord), and an evangelist converted to view sex dolls as an opportunity for doing God’s work (Claire). 

In her 2019 article, “Why Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is More Relevant Now Than Ever”, Winterson asks: “What happens when our newly created life forms can copy themselves, are immortal, can update their own software and make their own decisions? Will they feel remorse? Will humanity really be worth keeping?”  

Frankissstein: A Love Story examines these questions unburdened by a need for answers.

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