Hello everyone! I chose today’s book as it definitely fits in with the Pride Month focus of exploring/championing views that challenge our heteronormative cis-gendered capitalist white supremacist patriarchy (phew that’s a lot of words to just mean BULLYBOY BULLSHIT). This book is vanguard in its scope, both experimental in it use of time in narrative and the technological horizons it purports for our shared future. At turns movingly reflective, laugh out loud funny, and just plain fucking weird (Fancy some disembodied limbs having a lark about? LOVES IT!), I shall take no further ado in introducing FRANKISSTEIN: A Love Story, by one of my fave authors, the indomitable Jeanette Winterson.
The book is a retelling of Frankenstein’s monster, grappling with the implications of creating independent life in the context of 21st Century robots and AI. Blending Mary Shelley’s life from eloping with Percy to her time writing in the Alps (not in that chronological order), with modern day Brexit Britain and the sci-fi exploits of a transgender doctor named Ry. It isn’t ever made explicit, but the characters are not ‘singular’ in this novel; each separate voice and its emotions bleed into how another narrates their own movement in a certain blob of time. Ry and Mary share similar sentiments in their different threads, and Winterson has created a comedic gem in her rendering of Lord Byron into a modern day Welsh sex-bot manufacturer, Ron Lord. Turning Byron’s hyper-masculinity and sexual promiscuity into a caricature of modern fuckboi pathetic-ness and surprising vulnerability.
Sometimes this layering and fracturing of different stories into one ‘thread’ leaves you feeling a bit wanting, as there are gaps of detail which, me being the pesky Virgo that I am, would love to go into the nitty gritty of more. But overall, I think the overlapping and collapsing of different realities to create a transgressive take on the repercussions of Frankenstein’s monster on the world is uber clever. Huge jumps in time and consciousnesses inevitably need empty space to move. To give all this jibber jabber I am spouting cohesion I will briefly outline the plot: Ry, a transgender medical doctor, finds themselves enthralled by the passionate yet dangerous affections of a world famous AI scientist, Victor Stein. Victor Stein is all about furthering human intelligence beyond the material limitations of the body, mainly how bodies naturally decay and take the brain with them, and how bodies impinge upon our freedom, encasing us in identities we may/may not fully align with on the inside. It emerges that Stein’s interest in Ry is not merely (or even mainly?) based in romance, but an intellectual desire that goes beyond what Ry could ever imagine.
Sometimes the way Stein reflects on Ry being transgender and the scientific implications of that did make me feel a bit uncomfortable, as at the end of the day all identities are not scientific theses but just fucking breathing beings, whose personhoods do not need to be so intricately theorized. But, no progress comes without knowledge and the way Stein conjectures about transgenderism may sometimes be alarmingly OTT, but is ultimately rooted in admiration not fear. Granted, that admiration thrives in a distance of not actually understanding what Ry lives through (Ron constantly mis-genders them as one example of a daily micro-aggression, but Ry always bites back with a wit that is very satisfying) but that is why their relationship is so deliciously precarious. The loneliness of love.
Transgenderism is entwined with transhumanism in Victor’s mind and the awesome potential of choosing your own destiny- biological or technological existence- a parallel beyond what Ry really envisions for their self. Ry doesn’t want to be warped into machines or protected by a metal shell, they just want love returned. And Winterson is a writer who profoundly and deftly deals with the big L word. In Frankissstein, computer algorithms and mathematical systems are the language in which love expresses itself for Victor. For Ry, the grandness of Victor’s vision for humanity escaping the tyranny of flesh becomes more pernicious and authoritarian as the plot unfolds, and the battle no longer is just one of social ethics and practical technological advancements. How can we feel love without our bodies? Is it fair to teach a robot always to give, but never feel love in the same way for themselves? And if we really can return to each other in another life, will we be wearing angel wings or tin cases? Is it possible to fall in love without faces?
Frankissstein can sometimes be rather meta in how deep Winterson gets into discussing technology, but this seriousness is offset with a tender romanticism and undeniable humour- there’s a bit where Ron and a Christian fundamentalist called Claire end up hitting it off which really did make my head spin in giggling. I recommend Frankissstein if you are prepared for your mind to be blown with scientific prophecies, for an adventure of bodies exploring internal landscapes of love in a technological future already unfolding. THANK YOU JEANETTE FOR ANOTHER BANGER!!!!! XOXOXOXOXXOXOXOXOXXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOOXOXOXOXOXOXOOXOXOXOXOXOX
“Victor shrugged. There is a view that love, because it begins so spontaneously, is also simple. Yet if love engages our whole being and affects our whole world, how can it be simple? The days of simple are done- if they ever existed. Love is not a pristine planet before contaminants and pollutants, before the arrival of Man. Love is a disturbance among the disturbed.”