A Great Monster Never Gets Old: ‘Frankissstein’ by Jeanette Winterson

Book cover

I feel it’s necessary to start this review with a plug for the wonderful ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad‘ if only because otherwise I’m going to spend the whole post referring back to it. If you haven’t read ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad – you must. It is a near perfect novel taking the original monster to places so far beyond the original, telling a uniquely Iraqi story which I like to think Mary Shelley would have loved as much as I did.

‘Frankissstein’ is yet another dazzling embodiment of the versatility of Shelley’s classic Gothic horror. As you would expect from the fiercely ambitious and unconventional pen of Jeanette Winterson, it plays with the source material, contorting it into new shapes and meanings, while lovingly honouring the creation and messages of the original. Thus we open in 1816 on a rainy holiday with Mary Shelley, her bohemian companions and an exploration of the epigram ‘Reality is water-soluble‘. The famous story-telling takes place within an almost apocalyptic storm, a second flood from which a new kind of person could arguably emerge.

The novel doesn’t stay with Mary Shelley however, instead it jumps nimbly to other equally creative iterations of this founding myth. There’s a lot of fun in following transgender transhumanist Dr Ry Shelley (‘I’m here to consider how robots will affect our mental and physical health‘) and Professor Victor Stein (‘I called this lecture The Future of Humans in a Post-Human World‘) as Winterson brings an acutely 21st century lens to the enduring themes of the source material. Maybe others have read the original novel and immediately considered how it relates to Evangelical Christianity, sex-bots, and developments in Artificial Intelligence. Personally, I needed Winterson to open my eyes to the possible outcomes of Shelley’s first monstrous creation.

With its fast-flowing jokes, madcap plot and terrifying implications, there is no way to do justice to ‘Frankissstein’ in a short review. In any case, I really wouldn’t want to, to explain would be to shut down and I loved going into this book with no clue beyond the title as to what it would contain. The title and the author that is, because ‘Frankisstein’ is a novel to delight Winterson fans as much as it will anyone obsessed with the complex brilliance of the novel that started it all.

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