Excerpt from Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Jeanette Winterson

Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson X
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2019, 352 pages
    Sep 2020, 366 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Print Excerpt

Lake Geneva, 1816

Reality is water-soluble.

What we could see, the rocks, the shore, the trees, the boats on the lake, had lost their usual definition and blurred into the long grey of a week's rain. Even the house, that we fancied was made of stone, wavered inside a heavy mist and through that mist, sometimes, a door or a window appeared like an image in a dream.

Every solid thing had dissolved into its watery equivalent.

Our clothes did not dry. When we came in, and we must come in, because we must go out, we brought the weather with us. Waterlogged leather. Wool that stank of sheep.

There is mould on my underclothes.

This morning I had the idea to walk naked. What is the use of sodden cloth? Of covered buttons so swollen in their buttonholes that I had to be cut out of my dress yesterday?

This morning my bed was as wet as if I had sweated all night. The windows were misty with my own breath. Where the fire burned in the grate the wood hissed like a dejection of nature. I left you sleeping and I trod silently down the filmy stairs, my feet wet.


I opened the main door to the house. The rain continued, steady and indifferent. For seven days now it had fallen, not faster, not slower, not increasing, not abating. The earth could swallow no more and the ground everywhere was spongy – the gravel paths oozed water, and several springs had burst through the orderly garden, eroding soil that deposited itself in thick black puddles at our gate.

But this morning it was behind the house I went, higher up the slope, hoping for a break in the clouds, where I might see the lake that lay below us.

As I climbed, I reflected on what it must have been for our ancestors, without fire, often without shelter, wandering in nature, so beautiful and bountiful, but so pitiless in her effects. I reflected that without language, or before language, the mind cannot comfort itself.

And yet it is the language of our thoughts that tortures us more than any excess or deprivation of nature.

What would it be like – nay, what would it be? There is no like, no likeness to this question. What would it be, to be a being without language – not an animal, but something nearer to myself?

Here I am, in my inadequate skin, goose-fleshed and shivering. A poor specimen of a creature, with no nose of a dog, and no speed of a horse, and no wings like the invisible buzzards whose cries I hear above me like lost souls, and no fins or even a mermaid's tail for this wrung- out weather. I am not as well-found as that dormouse disappearing into a crack in the rock. I am a poor specimen of a creature, except that I can think.

In London I was not so content as I am here on the lake and in the Alps, where there is solitude for the mind. London is perpetual; a constant streaming present hurrying towards a receding future. Here, where time is neither so crammed nor so scarce, I fancy, anything might happen, anything is possible.

The world is at the start of something new. We are the shaping spirits of our destiny. And though I am not an inventor of machines I am an inventor of dreams.

Yet I wish I had a cat.

I am now above the roofline of the house, the chimneys poking through the damp cloth of steaming rain like the ears of a giant animal. My skin is covered in beads of clear water as though I have been embroidered with water. There is something fine about my decorated nakedness. My nipples are like the teats of a rain-god. My pubic hair, always thick, teems like a dark shoal. The rain increases steady as a waterfall and me inside it. My eyelids are drenched. I'm wiping my eyeballs with my fists.

Shakespeare. He coined that word: eyeball. What play is it in? Eyeball?

Crush this herb into Lysander's eye Whose liquor hath this virtuous property

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.

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