Frankissstein: A Love Story by Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson returns with another adaptation – this time with Mary Shelley’s much loved gothic horror novel, Frankenstein, drawn into a past-and present narrative about animation, artificial intelligence, bodies and gender.
Our protagonist is transgender man and gifted surgeon Ry Shelley. Shelley is in love with an egotistical tech genius named Victor Stein, who is developing technologies that will preserve consciousness beyond death. Winterson invites us to consider complex questions about the role of technology in medicine and identity through the eyes of a deeply ambivalent player – someone who can never be or feel in one camp or another, regardless of whatever binary is drawn around them. Through Ry and Victor’s relationship, Winterson shows readers some of the prejudice and assumptions trans people face in their daily lives. As Shelley did before her, Winterson takes readers on what becomes, at times, an outrageous romp and, at others, an unnerving tale of power, ego, and a thirst for mastery.
The central plot follows the developing use (and abuse) of AI and robotics for, often, selfish personal gratification. This modern story is interspersed with that of the real Mary Shelley, as she begins writing Frankenstein and is increasingly haunted by the scope of her own creation. There are many parallels between the stories of Mary Shelley and Ry Shelley: the discrimination that they face, their ambivalence towards their work and their partners, and the social and political upheaval in their worlds. Both are also concerned by the role of capitalism in pushing humanity to its limits.
Winterson shows us that the Romantics are just as relevant as they ever were, and that their concerns are ours, too. The links between Frankissstein and the future Shelley imagined in The Last Man, as well as Frankenstein, are disturbingly strong. I think Shelley would approve of Winterson’s novel, although I don’t think she would be glad to know that in 2019 we are hurtling toward catastrophes she warned us about in 1818 and 1826.