Frankissstein: A Love Story

Jeannette Winterson

Jeannette Winterson has written a fascinating reimagination of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ in her most recent novel, Frankissstein. Winterson successfuly brings together romanticism and science through her exploration of current technological advancements and developments in artificial intelligence juxtaposed with speculative chapters of how Mary Shelley came to write Frankenstein and her views, and the views of her peers, regarding life, death and the soul.

The novel begins with Shelley composing Frankenstein, before skipping to the present day and the life of Ry Shelley, a transgender doctor. We read how Ry meets Victor Stein, a mysterious professor who is working on ‘accelerating evolution’ to live forever as a consciousness in a machine, and Ron Lord who is on the road to launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men. The interaction between these three characters, all of whom have vastly different views on life, death, gender and sex allows any reader to maintain any opinion whilst insisting that they question their beliefs on all these issues. For instance, whilst I am thoroughly opposed to Ron Lord’s attitude, I found it enlightening to gain insight into how he perceived the world and why he chose to run a business producing sex dolls.

Winterson beautifully explores some of the problems we may face as a society if we continue on this quest to live forever through technology. For me this was the most interesting aspect of the book because it both highlighted different concerns that I had not previously considered and forced me to confront my instinctual resistence to certain forms of artificial intelligence. In particular, Victor Stein’s obsession with existing without a physical form fascinated me (likely because of my interest in Philosophy and consciousness). The concept of existing simply as a consciousness is an immediately unappealing one to me and so to read about a character whose life’s work centres around this goal was deeply intriguing.

Finally, I would like to praise Winterson’s ability to seamlessly switch between Ry’s 21st Century world and Mary Shelley’s 19th Century one. The way Winterson is able to create two vastly different worlds and successfully draw meaningful parallels between the two is truly incredible. I found myself thoroughly absorbed in each world without ever being thrown when switching from one to other.

This is a novel I would definitely recommend for anyone interested in the questions surrounding artificial intelligence and how it may intersect with issues of sex, gender and how we understand the difference between life and death.

May/June 2020 Round Up

These past two months have been a slower in terms of reading while I was finishing university so here’s a round up of both May and June.

It’s not about the Burqa

  • Author: Mariam Khan
  • Publisher: 21st February 2019, Picador
  • Summary: An anthology of essays by Muslim women on their experiences relating to faith, sexuality, feminism, racism and various other topics.
  • Rating: 4/5

Motherhood

  • Author: Sheila Hetti
  • Publisher: 7th June, 2018, Henry Holt and Company
  • Summary: A novel exploring what is gained and lost when a woman chooses to become a mother.
  • Rating: 4/5

Frankisstein: A Love Story

  • Author: Jeannette Winterson
  • Publisher: 21st May 2019, Jonathan Cape
  • Summary: Winterson brings together speculative fiction and historical fiction in a reimagining of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein.
  • Rating: 3/5

Little Eyes

  • Author: Samantha Schweblin
  • Publisher: October 2018, Simon and Schuster
  • Summary: A slow burn, psychological thriller in a world filled with kentukis, of which you are either a keeper or a dweller. Would you rather be inside someone elses home or have someone in yours?
  • Rating: 3/5

Normal People (BBC)

I, like many others at the moment, have spent the past two weeks watching the new BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s brilliant novel, Normal People, and you should too. Since I have already written a review of the book (which you can find here), this post will focus more on how well I felt it translated to the screen, rather than my general thoughts on the story and characters.

I’ll start by saying how much I enjoyed watching this adaptation and I think this may be because it did not deviate very far from the book. The producers of the show clearly understood the success of the novel and that to change too much when adapting it for the screen would not replicate the same success. Instead the subtlety of the novel translates beautifully into the show which brilliantly tows the line between what should go unsaid and informing the audience of just enough for them to connect with the story.

Another favourite aspect of the TV adaptation of mine was the cinematography. This was a beautifully shot show with incredible images of rural Ireland. I think this greatly contributed to allowing for things to go unsaid because the audience was given enough just from a single shot of Connell and Marianne that there was no need for any words.

An interesting choice in the TV adaptation was to soften the character of Marianne’s mother. In the book, Marianne’s mother is depicted as very cold, distant and unfeeling and while this can also be said for the character in the TV show, there are a few scenes between Marianne and her mother that attempt to humanise her. The first instance of this is a conversation between Marianne and her mother about Dublin, as Marianne is about to head to college there and so her mother is sharing her experiences there.

The second instance is later on in the series and a much more fraught interaction about Marianne’s brother’s aggressive behaviour towards her. Marianne blames her mother for not doing anything to stop him and her mother responds by pointing out that there’s nothing she can do; he’s her child and she can’t just throw him out of the house. This interaction seems to alter our perspective of her by humanising her and presenting her as being as much of a victim and as trapped as Marianne, where the book exclusively presents her from Marianne’s perspective as cold and uncaring.

Finally, I want to mention one particular scene that I thought was brilliant; when Connell is talking to his therapist. This scene was incredible to watch because it was completely stripped back, with very simple shots of Connell explaining how he is coping, or rather not coping, with his depression. At this point I will give credit to Paul Mescal for his beautifully raw performance which is particularly clear in a long close up shot focused on his face as he breaks down attempting to express what he is dealing with. The vulnerability captured in this scene is truly impressive.

I think that anyone who loved the book will definitely love this show as it is a brilliantly made adaptation that gets everything right.

If you like this review please let me know, and follow this blog to receive email updates on future posts.

Normal People

Sally Rooney

I’ll start this review by saying that I know I am very behind the times with this book, having not read it about a year or two ago when it first came to the forefront of the book world, but better later than never is a saying for a reason and it is definitely the case here. With the BBC adaptation coming out I decided to finally read Rooney’s normal people before watching it and I am thrilled that I did.

One of my favourite parts of this book was the interplay of the two perspectives. The shifts between Marianne and Connell are not balanced, alternating chapters, which is very interesting to read, primarily because it means we often get both their interpretations of the same events. I found this particularly interesting when Connell ends things with Marianne towards the end of sixth form and how we find out about it from Marianne’s perspective, adding to how abrupt it seems and how little clarity there is over why he chose to do it.

The way in which Rooney is able to convey the nuance and subtlety behind Connell and Marianne’s actions is truly impressive writing. The balance she strikes between concrete words and actions and what goes left unsaid is beautifully struck in a a way that gives just enough insight into the characters of Connell and Marianne but still leaves an air of mystery around their relationship that shows even their limited understanding of their feelings for one another.

This subtlety gave me an appreciation for the notion of love as something to desire and experience rather than something to achieve that runs throughout the novel. The love between Marianne and Connell is never addressed as being long term, it is very much just what they’re experiencing at the time.

I will say, however, that I’m unsure whether or not I like this book but that maybe that’s the point. I think this is a brilliant novel but I can’t claim to have loved it or that it is a favourite of mine. However, I think it is one of the most intelligently written novels I’ve come across that provides an intriguing perspective on love and relationships between young people.

Keep an eye out for my upcoming review of the BBC adaptation or click follow to receive email alerts.

April 2020 Round Up

The one upside to being in lockdown, if there even is one, is that I’ve had plenty of time to read this month.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

  • Author: Cho Nam-Joo
  • Publisher: 14th October 2016, Minumsa
  • Summary: The novel depicts the everyday sexism experienced by Kim Jiyoung from being a young girl to becoming a housewife and stay-at-home mother.
  • Rating: 5/5

Girl, Woman, Other

  • Author: Bernardine Evaristo
  • Publisher: 1998, Vintage
  • Summary: Follows the lives of twelve different characters, most of whom are women, most of whom are people of colour.
  • Rating: 5/5

Queenie

  • Author: Candice Carty-Williams
  • Publisher: 19th March 2019, Orion Publishing
  • Summary: Queenie Jenkins is a young Jamaican British woman living in London and trying to cope after a messy break up with her long-term white boyfriend.
  • Rating: 4/5

The Night Circus

  • Author: Erin Morgenstern
  • Publisher:2012, Vintage
  • Summary: The Night Circus arrives without any warning and disappears as though it was never there to begin with. Visitors marvel at the wonders inside but they know little of the true secrets of the circus.
  • Rating: 5/5

Normal People (Novel)

  • Author: Sally Rooney
  • Publisher: August 2018, Faber and Faber
  • Summary: Marianne and Connell try to maintain their relationship in the face of class differences whilst transition from high school to university.
  • Rating: 4/5

Normal People (BBC TV Adaptation)

  • Network: BBC One
  • Original Novel: Normal People by Sally Rooney
  • Synopsis: See above summary.
  • Rating: 4/5

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams

  • Author: Matthew Walker
  • Publisher: 3rd October 2017, Penguin Random House
  • Summary: A popular science book about the science behind why we sleep.
  • Rating: 3/5

Thanks for reading, keep an eye out for my reviews of Normal People and The Night Circus over the next week, or follow the blog to receive email alerts!

Queenie

Candice Carty-Williams

I read Queenie on the recommendation of multiple people in my life and I am so glad that I listened to them. This is one the of the best books I’ve read this year.

The novel follows the life of Queenie in the wake of her and her boyfriend taking and break and the subsequent downward spiral she experiences. The novel beautifully explores the nuances of race, family and class and how they can alter a person’s experiences.

The numerous sexual flings that Queenie has is explored in a darkly comic way whilst still highlighting how low her self esteem is, with a definite quality of ‘if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry’. From the brutal experience of such rough sex with a junior doctor leading a nurse to think she has been either sexually assaulted or pimped out to the seemingly nice guy who turns out to be married, Queenie goes from one bad experience to another, unable to understand why she can’t find a man who will treat her well and not just fuck her and move on.

Reading about Queenie being forced to navigate her job and family relationships as she breaks down provides a brilliant account of how desperately someone can try to keep moving despite the clear need for them to seek help. The interplay of race and class are particularly noteworthy in this area as Queenie always has to battle against her Jamaican grandparents beliefs surrounding mental health and therapy, plus Queenie even having access to therapy is reliant on someone else noticing and referring her, and even then she only gets a limited number of sessions.

Carty-Williams brilliantly conveys how Queenie handles always having to correct other people’s assumptions about her and attempting to maintain her fragile sense of self-worth. This is most clear in Queenie’s battle with her grandmother over attending therapy, where she is accused of bringing shame on the family and she rightly points out she is the first in the family to ‘finish school, go to college, get a degree and get a full-time job’ and is simply met with a response that she is also the first to need therapy.

Despite the story starting with Queenie moving out from the flat she shared with her boyfriend, Tom, in the vain hope that is only a temporary move, this is not a book about Queenie’s desperate search for love. Instead the romances in her life, if they can even be called that, are very much a symptom of the wider issues she’s dealing with and decidedly not the point of the novel. Rather Queenie’s story considers the intersections of Queenie’s identity and how people treat her because of them, whether this is men thinking she’s pretty for a black girl or her friend Cassandra failing to understand why Queenie can’t just dip into her savings when she’s short on money.

Overall, this is a darkly humorous, fantastically written consideration of race, class and gender and what it feels like to be drowning when everyone around seems to be swimming.

Girl, Woman, Other

Bernardine Evaristo

I have finally read last year’s Booker prize winner and it might be one the best books I’ve read in a long time. The book follows the lives of twelve different characters, most of whom are women of colour, across several decades, giving insight into the varied experiences they have and how they shape the differing perspectives they have on the world.

Each of the characters are complex and flawed and yet Evaristo always manages to position the reader from a point of empathy when reading their chapter. Since the different characters are connected through various relationships, the reader often gets snippets of information about characters you have yet to read about which allows you to form a prior opinion of them which makes reading their chapters especially interesting. There is always more to a character and their life than expected which is eye-opening to read.

My favourite chapter was probably the first one about Amma’s life. Amma is a black lesbian living in London in the 1980’s fighting for her rights and trying to get into the theatre. Her life in the 80’s juxtaposed with her life in the present day is fascinating as it demonstrates how the world has changed and how her views and life have changed along with it, including her becoming a parent and transitioning into the mainstream theatre industry.

Evaristo also expertly demonstrates how systemically racist and sexist structures within society can unite women, particularly women of colour, whilst highlighting how different they all are and how so many other factors in life can determine where they end up. For instance, Carole’s journey through elite academia and the world of banking which required her to conform to society’s expectations in so many ways puts her in a wholly different position to Amma’s life as a black lesbian who refuses to meet any expectations that don’t match up to her own desires and combats systemic racism, sexism and homophobia through this rejection.

However, despite these differences, Evaristo successfully conveys the shared experiences that ultimately bring these women together and often drives them to help each other out, whether this means mentoring young women of colour to try and give them an extra step up in life or providing a safe space for women when they need it.

Finally, I enjoyed the style of Evaristo’s writing far more than I expected to. Evaristo’s writing lacks standard capitalisation, punctuation or sentence structure which allows the stories to flow far more naturally and creating a feeling of the characters naturally reflecting back on their lives rather than a more contrived and deliberate narrative being told. This stream of conscience style combined with the natural inclusion of key physical details and references to wider debates, such as who has the most privileged or trans exclusionary feminism, results in a deeply insightful and thoroughly enjoyable novel.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Cho Nam-Joo

I started and finished this book in a day, partly because I’m on lockdown with a lot of free time, but mostly because I couldn’t put it down. After being recommended this by my girlfriend, I was thrilled that I had the chance to read it.

The book follows the life of Kim Jiyoung from early childhood up until her early thirties, exploring what it is to be a woman in Korean society. The novel beautifully conveys how wearing daily life can be for women in South Korea through depicting the how relentlessly Jiyoung is put down and held back simply for being a woman. This relentless quality was, I believe, conveyed so effectively because the novel itself was only short. Where I felt the effect of this daily sexism and misogyny, I at no point felt bogged down by it, which I think could have happened had it been a longer book.

I loved the insight into how children were raised in South Korea during the 80’s and 90’s, how boys were, and to a large extent still are, favoured to the point of women aborting babies once they find out they were having a girl. This was also emphasised by the inclusion of various statistics regarding gender equality in South Korea.

I also particularly enjoyed the characterisation of Kim Jiyoung’s mother and how she walked the line of understanding what she had given up because she was a woman, and trying to avoid that happening to her daughters, and still playing favourites with her son. She frequently stands up for her daughters, ensuring they don’t have to give up the things she did and making sure they have more, but then still sacrifices for her son in small daily acts, such as giving up food for him, and never asks as much of him.

This brings me to one of the other aspects of the book which I loved, which was the role Jiyoung’s brother, the boy and youngest child of the family, plays, or rather lack of role he plays. The invisibility of him as a character really speaks to the aim of novel to highlight the lives of women in South Korean, where so often men are central to narratives. The son is barely mentioned by name, is only central to a scene once and is never the focal point of any aspect of story, instead being the background character who is normally considered first within the family but not to be considered in this book.

Finally, I have to mention the ending to this book, but will try to do so without giving too many spoilers. The final chapter of the book is from the perspective of the male medical professional treating Jiyoung and it perfectly sums up the issue men have when thinking about the difficulties women face. Even the men who take the time to understand how often women are held back in society, they almost always fall at the last hurdle, as is perfectly summed up in the final two sentences of the book.

An American Marriage

Tayari Jones

I had wanted to read An American Marriage, last year’s winner of the women’s prize for fiction, for a while now so when a friend offered to lend me her copy just as I was finishing my last book, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, I jumped at the chance.

The novel follows the story of a newly-wed African American couple after Roy gets convicted for a crime that Celestial is sure he didn’t commit. Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The start of the book is told through the letters the couple send to one another. The choice to structure the story in this way is an interesting one as it means that we simultaneously have access to some of the most intimate aspects of their lives whilst also only ever receiving an edited snapshot. You are privy only to what they each wish to share with the other, which you know must not be a complete story, but also gain insight into incredibly personal matters you would only ever share with the person closest to you. Although at points this was somewhat frustrating, I generally enjoyed this structure as it also gave the book a nice balance in perspectives.

The second two thirds of the book then alternate in perspective of the three main protagonists which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite realising I didn’t especially like any of them as characters. However, I think that my dislike of the three protagonists only served to add to the tragic element of the book. I was frustrated by all three of the main characters of this novel but found myself unable to fault any of them for their actions which was an interesting attitude to have to a novel and has also left me unable to decide how much I enjoyed reading it.

However, that is not to say that I do not have a great appreciation for this novel, and I without a doubt think that it tells an important story in a beautifully written way. This book explores race politics and the prejudice within the justice system and law enforcement in America, particularly in southern states. I felt that I was given an insight into a world and culture so far removed from my own which makes this book an invaluable book.

Overall, when finishing this book I was left with a feeling of sadness and an inability to to entirely pinpoint the origin of my frustration with this book but with no doubt in the value of this story being told.

After the End

Clare Mackintosh

After the End follows two parents having to make a decision no parent should have to; whether to stop pursuing further treatment options and agree to only providing their 3-year-old son with palliative care going forward.

Pip and Max are parents to their son, Dylan, who is on life support because of a brain tumour and, despite various surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, it is unlikely he will ever recover. They are told they must decide whether they should just pursue palliative care and not resuscitate him should his heart fail again or continue to look for other treatments. However, Pip and Max don’t agree.

The first half of the book alternates between Pip, Max and Dylan’s doctor, Dr Leila Khalili’s perspective, through the process of making the decision and ultimately going to court in the process. However, then the book follows two different directions, presenting us with what would happen in either timeline; one where Dylan is provided with only palliative care and one where he is taken to Houston, Texas for an alternative form of treatment.

I found this to be an interesting method of structuring the novel, and an unexpected one, because you never find out which timeline actually takes place, in a sense there is no true reality, there is just the two possible realities. I think this was a clever approach to the book because it manages to circumvent a more predictable narrative arc where the novel concludes with the judges’ decision.

Although I am unsure if I preferred reading about both realities, because whilst there is a lot of overlap between the events that take place, which reinforces the idea that what will be, will be, I found it in some ways uncomfortable to have a clear comparison of the two potential futures. I believe the intention is to demonstrate that there was no right or wrong decision and that either way life will present its trials and tribulations, but I personally found that it highlighted ways in which each choice was the wrong thing to do. Perhaps this was the actual intention, as it makes you confront how you would make that decision and what you would ultimately want in life, but instead I simply found it slightly frustrating to read.

That being said, I would still recommend the book as it is a truly moving account of what it is to be a parent in such a heart-breaking position, caring for a terminally ill child and subsequently coping with the loss of a child.