Book Review: Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson – The novel I wish I could love

In Frankissstein, Jeanette Winterson uses a two narrative telling different stories to reanimate the questions once illuminated by Mary Shelley’s classic literary creation Frankenstein. In the first narrative, Winterson gives us the voice of Shelly during the gloomy vacation in Geneva, 1816 in which she first put pen to paper to bring her novel to life. We hear Mary retell moments from her romance with Percy Bysshe Shelley and the dark sorrow she carries over her lost children. Winterson gives us scenes of the couple shut up in the damp holiday accommodation they share with John William Polidori, Claire Clairmont and Lord Byron. The party of five are clearly going stir crazy with just themselves for company trying to find ways to alleviate the boredom.


In the second narrative we meet Ry Shelley, a doctor who identifies as both transgender and non- binary. Ry attends a conference in Memphis, Tennessee to interview a welsh man called Ron about his sex robot business. As the story evolves Ry meets the various characters that populate their world. It is Ry’s relationship with the scientist Victor Stein that dominates the plot of this narrative as Winterson explores various ethical and political themes.

I really wanted to love this book. Frankenstein is my favourite classic novel and I have explored various iterations of the story both written and on screen. I am also a huge fan of Jeanette Winterson and have been since my teens. Her works sit proudly on my bookshelves. All this said, I just didn’t enjoy it.


The first narrative I loved. Winterson writes Shelley confidently and there were moments that made me quite feel quite emotional. Shelley’s voice has echoes of characters from literary history such as Elizabeth Bennett and Mina Harker which feels apt. The Bedlam parts reminded me of the diary entries by Dr. Seward and his study of Renfield’s madness in Stoker’s Dracula. It is the last part of this story line that has the strongest marks of influence from the classic novel that Mary Shelley created.  If this had been the only story line I would have been very happy. However, the second story line just didn’t deliver as brilliantly.

I liked the ethical discussions that Ry’s story line served up. It was good to examine the problems that arise when developing and selling .A.I. It is true that there is the fear of how new emerging technologies will be used and, sadly, how they may be abused. There is also the question of how technology will influence society. In the novel, there is discussion of the fear that the convenience that technology gifts us may lead to our morals being compromised. We have seen how social media, for example, has led some members of society to send others abuse that they would never vocalise to them in person because social media has handed users the gift of not having to deal with the repercussion of their actions. Winterson does discuss issues similar to this that may arise with the advancement of the technology involved in artificial intelligence. This book does ask questions such as what would a woman’s worth be in a society where a man can order and command any type of woman he wants. Some of these moments I actually like.

The problems I had with the second narrative were more about the characters that Jeanette Winterson has created to explore these discussions and the story line that came with them. I found Ron deeply irritating and, although I’m sure that was the point of him, I was bored by his monologues. After Ry’s first interaction with him I just didn’t want to hear what he had to say anymore. Claire, a black American woman seemed to only have God worship as her personality and I can’t even remember anything about the journalist other than she kept turning up randomly for no real reason conducive to the plot. I hated Victor who felt like an emotionally manipulative toxic male figure that Ry was fooling themselves was in love with them. I actually cringed at the moments in which Winterson tried to tackle transgender issues. The moments in which Ry was continually forced to explain themselves and repeatedly dead named made me so angry. I’m well aware that for some members of the transgender community this is a reality but the way Winterson handled it in this novel felt ham-fisted.


One moment that made me want to not bother to finish reading the novel was the post-sex conversation that takes place during chapter 9. The tone of the interaction reminded me of pretentious intoxicated conversations I had experienced with ex-lovers who were desperately trying to assert the superiority of their intelligence to me to make up for their own sexual insecurities. I wanted Ry to get out, get away and run for the hills.

Maybe I’m being too harsh as it has been nominated for awards but the whole of the second narrative felt as if it was crammed full of ton of different issues and topics with no real cohesion. It’s such a shame because I really enjoyed the fictional account of Mary Shelley’s life and there is some really lovely writing in the novel itself. I love that Jeanette Winterson wanted to include Trans issues in this book I just wish she had listen more attentively to modern transgender voices when writing it.


I recommend that you give this book a read and make up your own mind. You can buy Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson from various bookshops.

This review was made possible by Netgalley with an advanced reader copy.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson – The novel I wish I could love

  1. A thoughtful,and considered review which clearly pinpoints issues with ‘Frankisstein’-I am about to start reading it myself,and with a passion for Mary Shelley like yourself, hope to enjoy at least the first part

    Liked by 1 person

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