EXCERPT | Jeanette Winterson: Frankissstein
Published at the ripe age of twenty-five, Jeanette Winterson’s debut novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit instantly launched her into the forefront of celebrated American writers. The decorated novelist returns with Frankissstein: A Love Story.
Published by Grove Press, Frankissstein tells a surreal, timeline shifting story which blends together Artificial Intelligence, a transgender protagonist, sex dolls, and, you guessed it, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. From Lake Geneva and Brexit-era Britain to Phoenix, Arizona and Memphis, Tennessee, the novel inhales love and exhales a joie de vivre. Check out an excerpt from the novel critics are calling “magnificent.”
Reality bends in the heat.
I’m looking through a shimmer of heat at buildings whose solid certainties vibrate like sound waves.
The plane is landing. There’s a billboard:
Welcome to Memphis, Tennessee.
I’m here for the global Tec-X-Po on Robotics.
Exhibitor? Demonstrator? Purchaser?
Yes, I have you here, Mr Shelley.
It’s Dr. Shelley. The Welcome Trust.
You’re a doctor?
I am. I’m here to consider how robotics will affect our mental and physical health.
That is a good question, Dr Shelley. And let’s not forget the Soul.
I’m not sure that’s my area…
We all have a Soul. Hallelujah. Now, who are you here to interview?
(Short pause while the database finds Ron Lord.)
Yes. Here he is. Exhibitor Class A. Mr Lord will be waiting for you at the Adult Futures Suite. Here is a map. My name is Claire. I am your point of contact today.
Claire was tall, black, beautiful, well-dressed in a tailored dark green skirt and pale green silk shirt. I felt glad that she was my point of contact today.
Claire wrote out my name-badge with a brisk, manicured hand. Handwriting - a strangely old-fashioned and touching method of identification at a futuristic tech expo.
Claire - excuse me - my name - not Ryan, just Ry.
I apologise, Dr Shelley, I am not familiar with English names - and you are English?
Yes, I am.
Cute accent. (I smile. She smiles.)
Is this your first time in Memphis?
Yes, it is.
You like BB King? Johnny Cash? And THE King?
Martin Luther King?
Well, sire, I was talking about Elvis - but now you bring it to my attention, we do seem to have a lotta Kings here - maybe something about calling this city Memphis - I guess if you name a place after the capital of Egypt, you gonna see some pharaohs - uh-huh?
Naming is power, I say to her.
It sure is. Adam’s task in the Garden of Eden.
Yes, indeed, to name everything after its kind. Sexbot…
Pardon me, sir?
Do you think Adam would have thought of that? Dog, cat, snake, fig tree, sexbot?
I am thankful he didn’t have to, Dr Shelley.
Yes, I am sure you are right. So tell me, Claire, why did they call this place Memphis?
You mean back in 1819? When it was founded?
As she speaks I see in my mind a young woman looking out of a sodden window across the lake.
I say to Claire, Yes. 1819. Frankenstein was a year old.
She frowns. I am not follwoing you, sir.
The novel Frankenstein - it was published in 1818.
The guy with the bolt through his neck?
More or less…
I saw the TV show.
It’s why we are here today. (There was a look of confusion on Claire’s face as I said this, so I explained.) I don’t mean existentially Why We Are Here Today - I mean why the Tec-X-Po is here. In Memphis. It’s the kind of thing organisers like; a tie-in between a city and an idea. Memphis and Frankenstein are both two hundred years old.
Tech. AI. Aritificial Intelligence. Frankenstein was a vision of how life might be created - the first non-human intelligence.
What about angels? (Claire looks at me, serious and certain. I hesitate...What is she saying?)
That’s right. Angels are non-human intelligence.
Oh, I see. I meant the first non-human intelligence created by a human.
I have been visited by an angel, Dr Shelly.
That’s wonderful, Claire.
I don’t hold with Man playing God.
I understand. I hope I haven’t offended you, Claire?
She shook her head of shiny hair and pointed to the map of the city. You asked me why they called it Memphis, back in 1819 - and the answer is because we are on a river - the Mississippi - and the old Memphis was on the River Nile - you seen Elizabeth Taylor playing Cleopatra?
Yes, I have.
You know, she wore her own jewels? Think of that.
(I thought of it.)
Yes, all her own jewels, and most of them bought by Richard Burton. He was English.
Where is Wales?
It is in Britain but it isn’t in England.
I find that confusing.
United Kingdom: the UK is made up of England, Scotland, a slice of Ireland, and Wales.
I see...OK. Well. I’m not visiting any time soon, so I don’t have to worry about directions. Now, here, see the map, here where we are now? This is a delta region also, like the region of the NIle around the first Memphis.
Have you been to Egypt?
No, but I have been to Vegas. Very lifelike. Very Egypt.
I hear they have an animatronic Sphinx in Vegas.
Yes, they do.
You could call that a robot.
You could. I don’t.
Do you know everything about this place? Your Memphis?
I like to think so, Dr Shelley. If you are interested in Martin Luther King, you should visit the National Civil Rights Museum right on the site of the Lorraine Motel, where he was shot dead. You been there yet?
You been to Graceland though?
Beale Street? Home of the Memphis Blues?
You got a lotta Not Yets in your life, Dr Shelley.
Excerpted from FRANKISSSTEIN: A LOVE STORY copyright © 2019 by Jeanette Winterson. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.