What’s it about?
Winterson cleverly combines scenes from Mary Shelley’s real life – a summer spent at the shores of Lake Geneva in 1816, where she thought of Frankenstein and began developing the story – and an alternate reality of sorts which is set in modern day Britain.
What I think about it
Victor Stein wants to achieve transhumanism in a future where humans don’t require bodies but exist as their mind. He is fascinated by Ry (short for Mary) who is transgender and doesn’t belong to the binary. They are who they are. Between the two of them they often discuss gender, bodies and what makes a human being.
‘I live with doubleness.’
Trigger warning here: Ry is misgendered and called by the wrong name throughout almost the entire novel. Ron Lord especially feels immediately threatened by Ry’s mere existence and asks them if they have a penis and if they are a woman within two minutes of them getting to know one another.
Winterson has both Mary Shelley and Ry pose important, philosophical, unconventional and uncomfortable questions that not only start heated discussions on the page but force the reader think as well. The novel comes uncomfortably close but it’s such an important read! Winterson jabs at society and politics whenever Ry or Mary are on the page.
‘Is manhood dickhood?’
Victor Stein tampers with AI and seeks to improve this technology and starts working with Ron Lord, who is in the sexbot business. These bots are equipped with a small AI and designed to please every man. When questioned if he’d be open to produce male sexbots for women he breathily explains why he can’t do that. Funnily enough, once the clergy in Rome discreetly asks about male sexbots, suddenly there are no complications to this new product line. Throughout the book I had the distinct feeling that no matter how much technology progresses, it would always include sexism.
Only thing I didn’t particularly like was the clinically sterile writing style. It fits the book and the story perfectly but it just isn’t what I enjoy reading.
I really, really liked this book and I’m excited to see it on the longlist for the Booker! Gender identity and feminism are such important topics and they need to be addressed. Even though Winterson raises questions about AI and what it could mean for the future, I read this novel as a critique on a society that is (still) built on sexism and queerphobia.
- Author: Jeanette Winterson
- Pages: 343
- Publisher: Penguin UK
- Release Date: May 28, 2019
- ISBN: 978-1-78733-141-9