Jeanette Winterson’s Mary Shelley is daring, playful and serious fun
Frankissstein: A Love Story review: Jeanette Winterson’s combines earnest concerns with page-turning energy
Jeanette Winterson: ‘But more familiar to Winterson’s longstanding readers will be the recurrence of themes from earlier work.’ Photograph Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty
For more than 30 years, Jeanette Winterson has been one of England’s most consistently ambitious, interesting and devil-may-care writers. Still best known for her debut, the autobiographical fantasy Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, her work since has been consistently varied – myths, love stories, sci-fi – and even when at her most inward-looking (Art & Lies, Gut Symmetries) there’s pleasure on every page, and she is never, ever boring. So this, her first stand-alone novel in a dozen years, should be a major literary event. Indeed that can be the only explanation for saddling it with such an indigestible title as Frankissstein: to give the other authors, vying for attention on the bookshop shelves, a chance.
The narrative alternates between two worlds. At Lake Geneva in 1816, 18-year-old Mary Shelley (“my mother made a living from her writing; it is my intention to follow her example”) starts thinking about the “ghost story” she has been challenged by Lord Byron to write, which will become Frankenstein.
The references in Frankissstein are so 2019 they practically come with hashtags: Brexit, bitcoin, trans issues, MeToo, Trump, Bolsonaro
Then in the modern world Dr Ry Shelley from The Wellcome Trust visits exhibitions on artificial intelligence and robotics to explore the impact the near future will have on humans and human relations. It’s perceptive of Winterson to recognise that the first famous sci-fi novel has concerns that are bang up to date: can artificial life be created? Can the creation really think and feel? Can a machine suffer?