Patricia's Reviews > Written on the Body

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
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Jul 21, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: contemporary-fiction
Read from July 21 to 22, 2010

Reading Winterson's Written on the Body immediately after Atwood's Cat's Eye was an interesting experience, as its hard to imagine how the two novels could be more different. While Atwood in Cat's Eye uses a sparse style to write round, complex characters, Winterson here writes flat characters, essentially archetypes, and crafts what is at its core a fable carried along by its lush prose.

The novel tells the most basic of stories: love found, love lost, love regained. The simplicity of plot is intentional, and mostly works, even when relying on cliches, solely on the strength of the writing--Winterson attempts to capture the embodied feeling of being in love and largely succeeds. This passage, for example, stood out to me more than anything I've read in a while:

"I don't want to be your sport nor you to be mine. I don't want to punch you for the pleasure of it, tangling the clear lines that bind us, forcing you to your knees, dragging you up again. The public face of a life in chaos. I want the hoop around our hearts to be a guide not a terror. I don't want to pull you tighter than you can bear. I don't want the line to slacken either, the thread playing out over the side, enough rope to hang ourselves" (88).

Framed by a bare-bones plot, this type of philosophical meandering composes the bulk of the novel. When it works, as in the paragraph above, it's beautiful. When it doesn't work, however, it can lapse into a rambling self-indulgence that reminds me of the blog entries my freshman-year college roommate used to write when stoned.

On the whole, though, recommended; although of the three Winterson novels I've read, I still prefer The Passion. And one final note: while the novelty of this book is supposed to be that the gender of the first-person narrator is unspecified and indeterminate, I have trouble imagining how this story could be read as anything other than a butch/femme love story.
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