In 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. Meanwhile, in 1816, nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley writes a story about creating a non-biological life-form. ‘Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful.'
What will happen when homo sapiens is no longer the smartest being on the planet? Jeanette Winterson shows us how much closer we are to that future than we realize.
Frankissstein is a fragmented, at times dazzlingly intelligent meditation on the responsibilities of creation, the possibilities of artificial intelligence and the implications of both transsexuality and transhumanism ... As is to be expected from a novel both constructed from and beholden to the nebulous realm of ideas, there are moments when the book’s speculative nature threatens to overwhelm its sense of tangible reality ... As a result, readers may occasionally begin to feel rather disembodied themselves, immersed in the deoxygenated atmosphere of pure thought. Winterson’s great gift as a writer, though, is the ability to inject pure thought with such freewheeling enthusiasm and energy that ideas take on their own kind of joyous life. Frankissstein abounds with invention ... Such is Winterson’s comfort across modes and forms, she’s also able to leaven the hyperinvention of rogue science with deeply evocative historical realism balanced by hilarious, almost bawdy set pieces ... this is a work of both pleasure and profundity, robustly and skilfully structured, and suffused with all Winterson’s usual preoccupations – gender, language, sexuality, the limits of individual liberty and the life of ideas.
... far, far more than a reimagining of Mary Shelley’s 19th-century monsterpiece. It’s a novel fizzing with ideas, one that toys with timelines and intertextuality. It veers from the Gothic to the satirical and seamlessly interweaves social commentary on everything from gender to the cultural hegemony to our obsessions with social media and future tech. The Frankensteinian notion of creating a sentient being has obvious parallels with artificial intelligence, and that’s what Jeanette Winterson has in her sights ... Mary’s scenes, which are laced throughout the novel, are visceral and seeped with Gothic gloom. You can almost smell the sweat and sense the languor and claustrophobia out of which so many great pieces of writing were created ... Occasionally, [Stein] comes across as little more than a TED Talk himself, spouting chunks of research and philosophical meanderings that, while fascinating, stall the novel...But these forays into didacticism are balanced with gleeful, highly imaginative set pieces rich with black humor ... Winterson has stitched together that rarest of beasts: a novel that is both deeply thought-provoking and provocative yet also unabashedly entertaining (I laughed out loud more times than I could count). Frankissstein, like its protagonist Ry, is a hybrid: a novel that defies conventional expectations and exists, brilliantly and defiantly, on its own terms.
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 ... While the story has a gripping momentum of its own, it also fizzes with ideas ... [Shelley] would surely be pleased with the extraordinary elasticity of this novel.