TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- FRANKISSSTEIN!!!

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.”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- ‘Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere’!!!!!

Hello and welcome to today’s Tomboy Book club!!!! I am going to be giving my humble opinions about Jeanette Winterson’s new feminist manifesto: ‘Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere’ (if you recognize the title- good. It means you are keeping up with your British feminist history).

At only 72 pages this compact but shining gem won’t take you long to read, but it will give you plenty of idea-seeds to plant in your brain for later reflection to keep your brain sap flowing towards gender revolution. Not only is this powerhouse concise, but Winterson has also kept it accessible in the vocabulary she chooses to use. Although it could be more informative in helping introduce people to language used in discussions of trans issues or intersectional feminism addressing race, I think for the size and scope of the book trying to be inspirational and punchy rather than in-depth and educational Winterson has done her best to keep the tone serious yet manageable for people just getting into the feminist spirit. I can’t lie though, I am a little surprised Winterson did not address more the future of transgender rights and gender deviancy away from the binary, considering how huge a topic these issues are ATM and how they will remain important into the near future. I was expecting some acknowledgement of transgender and queer rights, just because Winterson is so known for loving Woolf and the fluidity of gender created in Orlando. Not that loving Orlando makes you an expert on queerness, and Winterson can’t be an expert on everything, it was just a bit of a shame…

BUT- Winterson really does cover many other areas of feminism, and whilst focusing on British history with her celebration of the Suffragettes and Suffragists, her arguments are global in their concern and shouldn’t be limited to the problems faced by one country alone. Politics, domestic violence, social media and business glass-ceilings are all touched upon by Winterson, but her discussions of women in the future of technology, and thus the future of the world as it continues to develop technologically is the most interesting part to me. It made me shiver a bit when she talks of how there are barely any women in charge of making technology, and yet simultaneously many technological advances in the form of AI existing which seek to mimic- or even replace- women. Winterson confronts the issues of sexbots; their male creators’ world views which they program for posterity into non-humans (pretty much the status human women have been given for all of history anyways lol) for their own enjoyment and affirmation of fucked-up gender constructs. Winterson warns how without female input into these technological advances (arguable if sexbots are an advance-but that is another kettle of fish entirely), women will be excluded from the future again before it’s even fully begun. I wish she could go more in depth and quote more studies and people who have thought a lot about this issue of feminism in technology, but again- this isn’t supposed to be a textbook for all the answers, it is supposed to be emotive and punchy to make you wanna get of your arse and do something for humanity.

The only criticism I have is that of criticism, by which I mean Winterson hasn’t really criticised or taken issue with any of the problems internal to mainstream British feminism which it still faces. TBF, Winterson does talk about the problem of difference, criticising the investment many (mostly white) women have with existing governments; in that many feminists want to acquire and yield the same power that the patriarchy uses now to fuel its terrorism- which obviously isn’t gonna do shit. And that women must create new, differing and previously unknown modes of thinking in order to truly defeat the ills of white supremacist heteronormative patriarchy (white men sure have created a world where it is easy to subconsciously hate many people- how wonderful!!!!). However a problem I really do think she should have addressed is that of racism in British feminism, because as much as I adore my foremothers’ fighting and bravery, there can be no mistake who they were fighting for: themselves, not the black and brown women of other occupied colonies who supported white British women in their struggle. For modern feminism to progress, we must not only look for the successes of the past to replicate, but also the failures so we know what weakens us and what to avoid in the future. It really pisses me off that the racism of the suffragettes goes so unnoticed most of the time, because it really should be addressed in order for white women to realise that it’s not a real victory if your victory only serves to continue to hold others down- by ignorance, or wilful cruelty (for the record, ignoring the problems of other people is still cruel). Heck- Sylvia Pankhurst had to eventually abandon the Suffragettes because her mother, the sainted Emmeline (whose speech, ‘Freedom or Death’ is included after Jeanette’s work- pretty sick), said she could never support black people having the vote!!! That is not the sentiment a real revolutionary would have!!! People can revere and celebrate the Suffragettes as much as they want, but no sincere progress will be made until that racism is shown for what it really is: vulgar, with no place in the future of feminism. Especially considering all the racism Britain has been forced to confront recently with Grenfell, Windrush and the ongoing refugee crisis- a manifesto of feminism that doesn’t even mention racism really can’t be said to be that helpful at all.

Overall, this is a great book to fuel a fire for change already burning within, but won’t be the best place to start learning the real facts of ammunition to fight. It is emotive more than informative, and that is great if you’re needing some inspiration to keep fighting this fucked up world. In order to get the best out of it, interrogate each line, each idea, and make the 72 pages grow and grow in potential using your mind! I will stop blabbering on now, but I send my love to all Winterson and feminist enthusiasts out there!!!!! LET HER COURAGE BE YOUR OWN!!!!!

“Graffiti on a loo wall in Camden Town: Behind every great woman is a man who tried to stop her.

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB-The Daylight Gate!!!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN MY WITCHES AND BITCHES, MY GHOULS AND GIRLS!!!! Welcome to today’s Tomboy book club on this SPOOKY OOKY KOOKY SLAM DUKEY HALLOWEEN!!!

The book I’ve chosen today seems appropriate in its evil doings and filthy ways: its full of witches digging up graves and fucking Satan, but we’ll get to more of that later. I’d never heard of Jeanette Winterson’s ‘The Daylight Gate‘ before I was crouching down hurting my knees at the bottom shelf of a charity shop bookcase with grandma looming over me (rifling through the DVD’s trying to find more films with her fave actor she loves to gush over- sorry for spoiling the secret, Chrissy), when I saw the name of beloved Jeanette and instantly reached for the spine.

The book is based off the true history (don’t worry, it still has the magical flare and fictional spell that Jeanette has made perfection) of the Lancashire Pendle Witch Trials in 1612- the home county of Winterson, too. Using details from the first ever witch trial in England to be documented, a narrative grown around the bones cast aside by history- like a reincarnation of spells- to flesh out a deliciously sordid and luscious tale of love, hatred, superstition and injustice.

Alice Nutter is the main character in the novel (it is really easy and addictive to get through though, I managed to get through it in 2 days and it would be great for a long journey!), a suspiciously aloof woman who has the audacity to live and control her own wealth without the direction of a husband’s hand. This book is full of contradictions and paradoxes, and whilst sometimes it can be a bit confusing trying to balance all the time, I think the way Winterson has created her characters to be so multiple and contradictory just adds further to mystery of the plot and hexes murmured. Alice is at once old and young, a mature woman with the face of a younger self; she is rich and supposedly got there by learning to be a merchant cloth dye trader- but how, and who taught her? Then there’s Old Demdike, the pustule ridden hag locked away in Lancaster Castle facing death, seemingly devoid of all tenderness and romance, but who actually has a past much more wild than I thought could pan out.

The male characters in this book on the whole are dicks- they are the powers that be spreading the atmosphere of fear and hatred which sent so many to death for simply choosing to live a little wilder. This book is set during the reign of King James, who is famous for writing ‘Daemonologie‘- an extensive study of witchcraft, and the ‘Dark Prince’ for whom they sell their souls. And also famous for being the target of the failed gunpowder plot, when Guy Fawkes and his lot wanted to blow up Parliament- it’s a pity they failed. But the book makes very stark the simultaneous persecution of Catholics and alleged Witches espoused under King James, making one wonder if its really witches who were the targets, or if witchcraft was merely a scapegoat for Catholics to be pinned with (“Witchery Popery, Popery Witchery“) as a justification to make those in power feel less guilty?

Using the rich men in charge to harass and essentially bully old homeless women and their families puts starkly in the foreground how class and gender were a big role in why people were really executed. It sort of makes the book more scary, as it’s not the witches who are the monsters- desperately trying any vile thing they can concoct to try to save their grandmother. The true Satan-spawn are the emotionless, and money-minded authorities- not giving a toss who they kill or why, so long as it advances their careers. They do say the real monsters aren’t the ones hiding under your bed…

Though I will give a warning to the faint hearted, this is a gristly book. Within the first ten pages a woman is raped (the book also features paedophilia and incest- but that is way to horrifying to go into here), and Winterson does not stop these relentless punches against ones morality. There are beatings, grave-diggings, torturings and orgies. Some of my highlights include when a head is severed from its rotting corpse, has a tongue ripped out of a boys mouth stitched inside its toothless jaw, is boiled in a pot and left on the side to speak. Or there’s the time teeth fall from the sky into Alice’s lap, or the time there’s a party for Satan and he literally starts shagging someone in the middle of the room with everyone watching- or the time a door knocker turns into human flesh… this book is weird, but a good weird I think. Not that I endorse any of the above acts, but the gore and fantastical gruesomeness is  one of the reasons I love Winterson, she writes the most far-fetched things, but always manages to make it seem plausible in a way we dream of.

Winterson also always manages to put my favourite part of any story in amongst this bleakness: love. That may be the most devilishly strange thing after all, that love could survive in such a place. But it does, and whilst weird, the love stories conjured in this book are wild and soaring.

I won’t write anymore, most of you either want to go trick’o’treating or partying with one of those awful plastic clown masks- I hate those. But I hope you give this frightful tale a go, and it says that it was in production to be made a film so maybe there is a film too?!? Anyways, I hope you have a lovely Halloween and don’t piss off any ghosts or anything XOXOXO

“…’Do I believe in witches? He did not like that question. The question that followed he liked less: If Alice is a witch, how can I love her? He would love her if she were a wolf that tore out his heart. And he wondered what that said about love…”