Review: Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson

frankissstein jeanette winterson

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Categories: Literary Fiction, Science Fiction


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.’

This was a very mixed experience. Frankissstein discusses the future of humanity in terms of what it will be like to temper with one’s biology, uploading a human brain’s content into a machine, become post-human; this was incredibly fascinating to read. I kept stopping to think about it, to ponder how it would work in practical terms, to ask my husband how he would like to be a floating brain (he said “I’m good, thanks”, completely unfazed, and would not be convinced otherwise, even when I offered a brand-new body to download his brain content into). I adore science fiction, and especially mixed-genre sci-fi, in this case a mix of historical fiction, science fiction and literary. It was so enjoyable to read. The fact that it interludes the present-time Ry storyline with Mary Shelley’s in the 1800s was very interesting

As the story went on, however, I started to get really exhausted. Not by the story itself, but by the treatment of Ry, the main character. Ry is trans and non-binary, masculine presenting. The fact that the author is a cis woman is already kind of red flag, but I was quite willing to give it some leeway because I loved Jeanette Winterson’s work before and I did so want to love this. But I think it shows. It was exhausting to see every single character be transphobic, one of the characters clearly has a fetish for Ry being trans and that is never really challenged, and then there’s a scene (if you read the book you know which), which was absolutely unnecessary… and generally I just wish it had all been handled better. E from Revolution in the Pages is a queer, trans book blogger and has reviewed Frankissstein too, and they obviously have a lot more authority in talking about the representation than I do, so do give their review a read (and follow them)!

In the end, I loved this, cringed, got exhausted and finished it feeling like a chore. So I’m giving it three stars because it did leave a strong impression of how brilliant this would have been if perhaps the author had written it another way. I wanted to love this, and sometimes I did, but I don’t think I will be recommending it.

6 thoughts on “Review: Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson

  1. Great review! I agree with you that the problematic character development ruined what would have otherwise been a good novel! And thanks for including the link to E’s review – it was great to read their perspective on the trans representation in this book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I am considering bringing it 1 star down, because in the end it’s not really excusable, and I haven’t seen her talk about it in interviews (although maybe I just didn’t see it), and E makes really good points.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review. I really need to reread this one, I think- I was so caught up in how much I loved it as a Frankenstein homage that I did not notice the problematic trans rep, which is not something I want to support even though I liked other things about the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. glad you got along with this a little better than me, at least! i think i would’ve been able to appreciate the other sections more if not for how frustrating i found Ry’s to be. i also found E’s review super enlightening as i hadn’t seen a ton of ownvoices reviews (thankfully, honestly! hopefully not a lot of trans people had to deal with reading that rep)


  4. Pingback: Final Thoughts on the Women’s Prize Squad Longlist (Book Blogger Edition) | Naty's Bookshelf

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