Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body was a book I picked up when Mary Renault’s book gets a little too historical fiction-y. You know, pages upon pages of descriptions of battle and who killed who and a whole bunch of other things I would probably care about more if I found military history at all intersting. Needless to say, Written on the Body was completely removed, and thus was a marvelous read at a marvelous time.
I should probably point out that the most original aspect of this book is that the gender and name of the narrator are ever given. The book chronicles the narrator’s experience with the women of his/her life, first their relationship with a woman named Jacqueline, who is then replaced by a woman named Louise as the narrator works pages and pages of heavily emotional descriptions of the passion he/she feels for both of these women. Winterson herself said that the reason the gender of the narrator is never given so that the maxims given can be applied to love of all kinds, not specifically hetero- or homosexual. And while I would say that this is definitely a lofty goal, and although this is generally the case, a lot of the time the phrases are just a bit to heavy-handed towards a kind of verbose sentimentality. Wonderful to read in short doses, but a bit too sacchrin for my taste after hundreds of pages (well, 190 pages to be exact). And while I would wildly recommend the book becaue of the way it reworks a possibly-cliche plot (narrator loves Lousie, Louise gets cancer, narrator gives her up so she can ‘have a better life’ with her wealthy husband who can pay for her medical treatment, narrator regrets decision) I do have to say that those with low tolerance for sentitmentality or rather gaudy word choice may want to take the book in smaller segments. Below are some favorite quotes:
“I can’t seem to get you out of my flesh. I think about your body day and night. When I try to read it’s you I’m reading.”
“Louise, in this single bed, between these garish sheets, I will find a map as likely as any treasure hunt. I will explore you and mine you and you will redraw me according to your will. We shall cross one another’s boundaries ad make ourselves one nation. Scoop me in your hands for I am good soil. Eat of men and let me be sweet.”
“On a molecular level success may mean discovering what synthetic structure, what cemical, will form a union with, say, the protein shape on a tumor cell…but molecules and the human beings they are a part of exist in a universe of possibility. We touch one another, bond and break, drift away on force-fields we don’t understand.”
“No-on can legislate love; it cannot be given orders or cajoled into service. Love belongs to itself, deaf to pleading and unmoved by violence. Love is not something you can negotiate. Love is one thing stronger that desire and the only proper reason to resist temptation.”
“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 lines to slacken either, the thread playing out over the side, enough rope to hang ourselves.”
“Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights; the accumulation of a lifetime gather there. In place the palimpset is so heavily worked that the letters feel like braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes. Never unfold too much, tell the whole story.”
“Dear Louise, I love you more than life itself. I have not known a happier time than with you. I did not know this much happiness was possible. Can love have texture? It is palpable to me, the feeling between us, I weigh it in my hands the way I weighed your head in my hands. I hold on to love as a climber does a rope. I knew our path would be steep but I did not forsee the sheer rock face we have come to. We could ascend it, but it would be you who took the strain.
I’m going away tonight. I don’t know where, all I know is I won’t come back…you are safe in my home, but not in my arms. If I stay it will be you who goes, in pain, without help. Our love was not meant to cost you your life. I can’t bear that. If it could be my life I would gladly give it…I shall think of you everyday, many times a day. Your hand prints are all over my body. Your flesh is my flesh. You deciphered me and now I plan to read. The message is a simple one; my love for you. I want you to live. Forgive my mistakes. Forgive me.”
“Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. When then kills love? Only this: Neglect. Not to see you when you stand before me. Not to think of you in the little things. Not to make the road wide for you, the table spread for you. To choose you out of habit not desire, to pass the flower seller without a thought. To leave the dishes unwashed, the bed unmade, to ignore you in the mornings, make yse of you at night. To crave another while pecking your cheek. To say your name without hearing it, to assume it is mine to call.”