Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Frankissstein [review]

Frankissstein: A Love Story by Jeanette Winterson
Published by Vintage Digital on May 28, 2019
my rating: ★★
Goodreads avg:
3.71 (as of 2020-05-04)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

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, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with Mum again, is set to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere.

Across the Atlantic, in Phoenix, Arizona, a cryonics facility houses dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead… but waiting to return to life.

But the scene is set in 1816, when nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley writes a story about creating a non-biological life-form. ‘Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful.’

I am a poor specimen of a creature, except that I can think.

It is an understatement to say that I have issues with this book. I should preface this review with the caveat that while I am queer, I am also cis, so my opinions are colored by that. If you’re an ownvoices reviewer and would like me to link to your review, please let me know! Edit: Here is a great one-star review posted over at Revolution in the Pages!

I took great issue with Winterson’s portrayal of a trans person. Ry is a character completely without agency. Every single person they come into contact with in the book misgenders them and while on occasion they will make an effort to correct someone or to explain their identity, they feel like nothing more than a plot device to fuel a discussion surrounding gender rather than an actual character. At one point Ry is physically attacked, demeaned, and left alone cowering on the ground in a scene that seemed to hold little-to-no meaning in the greater plot. They were constantly fetishized and objectified by Victor, who seemed to think of them little more than a toy and a sex object. They were defined solely by their relationship to Victor and their trans identity. It seemed that Ry had no trans friends (really, no friends at all) and when Victor mentioned that he had never met a trans person before, Ry just replied that most people haven’t. If this is indeed set in the present or near future, I find that an absurd statement. Many cis people may think they have not met a trans person, but they would have no way of knowing.

It’s horrible, I said. You’re a doctor, he said. You know how useful horrible is.

Victor himself was impossible to read. I don’t think he was meant to be a likable person, but that doesn’t change the fact that I hated reading about him. Although he’s meant to be a “transhumanist” (he wishes his consciousness could be uploaded to a computer) and insists mankind will move beyond gender, race, etc., he spends all his time misgendering Ry, insists he’s not gay, and equates being a man with having a penis. As for the other characters, Ron, Claire, and Polly D all felt like one-dimensional caricatures and for half the book I thought Claire and Polly were the same person.

The formatting just didn’t work for me at all. I thought the two stories being told were completely disparate and didn’t mesh together at all. The commentary felt half-formed and I kept wanting Winterson to push a little further, or to adjust her trajectory. It just didn’t seem like she was in a position to be comparing trans people to monsters and machinery and I wish more had been said about life and death instead.

None can know the human mind. No, not if he read every thought man ever wrote. Every word written is like a child striking a flame against the darkness. When we are alone it is the darkness that remains.

Can someone also let me know whether the sex scenes were supposed to be erotic? Because they were completely devoid of passion and emotion and I literally couldn’t have cared less about them. It genuinely felt like an excuse to obsess over Ry’s genitalia more than anything else.

The only saving grace here is that there were beautiful moments of prose that I just loved. I highlighted a lot of lines while reading just because I was so struck with them. I cannot deny that Winterson has a way with words and a lot of this book was very readable. I also didn’t mind the lack of quotation marks because, for the most part, Winterson’s writing was so adept that it was clear where they should have been and who was speaking.

Even our best endeavours turn against us. A loom that can do the work of eight men should free eight men from servitude. Instead, seven skilled men are put out of work to starve with their families, and one skilled man becomes the unskilled minder of the mechanical loom. What is the point of progress if it benefits the few while the many suffer?

This is review is a lot to sum up, but I’ll just say: I think Winterson completely missed the mark here and I found this to be a painful reading experience.

content warnings: transphobia; [transphobic] sexual assault; sexism; misgendering; miscarriage; child death.

My current 2020 Women’s Prize Squad Longlist rankings:

  1. The Body Lies
  2. Girl, Woman, Other
  3. My Dark Vanessa
  4. Ninth House
  5. Frankissstein

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20 thoughts on “Frankissstein [review]”

  1. Great review! I enjoyed this one at the time, but I’ve increasingly realised that I loved it for its Frankenstein homages (since it’s one of my all time favourites) and not for its plot or characters, which haven’t stayed with me at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I haven’t read Frankenstein yet (although I’m increasingly tempted to pick it up), so I was really left with nothing but the story Winterson wrote. I definitely think it would’ve been easier to appreciate had I had that background.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m definitely curious about how this one would have fared if I wasn’t so invested in Frankenstein 👀 It’s likely your criticisms would have stood out to me a lot more as well!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review!! It’s refreshing to see a negative review of this book. I’ve seen almost exclusively 4- and 5-star reviews of this book, which made me feel like I was crazy for thinking that it was okay-at-best. I also thought the characters in the Victory/Ry storyline were flat, and because I didn’t care for the characters, I didn’t really care what happened in the Victory/Ry storyline. I did like the Mary Shelley chapters more, but they weren’t enough to make the whole book a positive reading experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I definitely agree with that, the chapters set in the past were better but couldn’t carry the book alone. I also felt a little crazy at first, but I went through some reviews with lower stars on GR and felt better after that haha.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review! This has been very eye-opening to read; I loved this book wholeheartedly when I read it, for the writing and the Frankenstein parallels/expansion. A lot of the characters are modern caricatures of Shelley’s original characters, which helped me forgive them for a lot, though admittedly it was Winterson’s craftiness at repurposing a novel I already loved that impressed me rather than the story and characters of this book in their own right. The structure also I liked because of the way I saw it reflecting Frankenstein, though I could see even while reading it how it could be less successful without making that connection. Tbh I think I would’ve had a very different experience with this book without Frankenstein, and perhaps in some ways that would have been better, even though I might have liked the book less. The poor trans rep completely escaped me, which is unfortunate and will probably greatly affect my opinion upon rereading, so I’m glad to have that in mind to keep an eye out for.

    I hope you’ll have a better time with the rest of our alternate list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It’ll definitely be interesting to see what you think on a reread. I really do feel that I missed out a bit having never read Frankenstein and definitely intend to pick it up at some point. I have high hopes for the rest of the list, so hopefully this was the only low point!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. agree agree agree! just posted a review on this book from the pov of a trans person. I hope you don’t mind I linked back to this review too as I see way too many positive reviews out there

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ah, i don’t mind at all! i’d love to link to yours too if that’s ok! i was so surprised to read it after seeing so many positive reviews but i think a lot of people just don’t fully understand why some elements are so problematic.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. that would great if you could link, thank you! yes, unfortunately it serves to perpetuate harmful tropes, rather than address them

        Liked by 1 person

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