I don't remember
who recommended Jeanette Winterson to me. Actually, I don't want to remember
the person who recommended Jeanette Winterson to me. What an asshole. Anyway,
it was certainly not a bad recommendation in the least, but as I associate
Winterson with that asshole, I will try to be as fair as possible. She's a
very talented writer.
Winterson is most often associated with fabulism, a sect of writers who challenge
the tangible world with a fake one to evoke very real feelings, albeit pretty
dreamy and hazy ones. You know, houses on stilts that extend through the clouds
and the like. What have you. From there you are led to question the reality
of your own tangible world: The truth of love, of time, of your own skin.
It's as much a philosophical venture as it is a literary one.
The writer herself is a particularly lyrical in her fabulism. If you are a
writer, you can read her work and think quite easily that you wish you yourself
could come up with a such a clever turn of phrase. That's because Winterson
writes like a great soprano sings - like drinking white wine from a diamond
glass, its cuts sparkling in the snow and the moonlight. And that, in and
of itself, is a joy to those of us enamored simply with what language can
do. If she ignores the laws of physics along the way, so be it. The sheer
prettiness of her prose overcomes the implausibilty of her scenes.
Which is not to say she lacks bite. Strictly speaking she is frustrated with
the norms of everyday society and, in particular, the bounds of sex and gender.
The novel Written on the Body, for example, explores the failing relationship
of a hapless man and his partner, and the affair the partner pursues with
a woman. The trick is, the reader never knows whether the protagonist is a
man or woman; she is careful to assign both what are thought to be feminine
and masculine qualities to… this person. It makes for great book club fodder.
Your girls could go on all night, over cookies and wine, about whether it's
a man or woman. I still have no idea. Very artful, indeed.
The genderless society theme can get a bit tiresome, however, to someone like
me, an avowed libertarian who finds that success with what you have is better
than complaining about what you don't. But as I've said, her linguistic talents
far outweigh the faults, if you can even call them that. All good writing
challenges you, but her writing challenges your assumptions as well as your
heart. Whatever you might find tiring, at least you'll have something to talk
Other authors you might like, if you enjoy Winterson, include Lorrie Moore,
the acclaimed American short story writer, whose writing is also quite lyric,
although her wit is very much grounded in the real world. You may also enjoy
Julian Barnes, a fellow Briton with a similar wit, and especially his Flaubert's
Parrot. As Winterson enjoys playing a bit with history, you may also enjoy
reading John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman, a more conventional
novel to be sure, but one that has some of the same social questions.