Jonathan's Reviews > The Passion

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
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May 25, 2009

it was amazing
Read in November, 2003

This is by far one of the most phenomenal, surreal, gratifying reads in comtemporary world literature. It is the twisted, tangled love story of Henri and Villanelle, two wayward, androgynous 19th century vagabonds who find their destiny in a post-Napoleonic Wars Venice. One of my favorite parts of this book is Winterson's description of Venice:

"There is a city surrounded by water with watery alleys that do for streets and roads and silted up back ways that only the rats can cross. Miss your way, which is easy to do, and you may find yourself staring at a hundred eyes guarding a filthy palace of sacks and bones. Find your way, which is easy to do, and you may meet an old woman in a doorway. She will tell your fortune, depending on your face.

This is the city of mazes. You may set off from the same place to the same place every day and never go by the same route. If you do so, it will be by mistake. Your bloodhound nose will not serve you here. Your course in compass reading will fail you. Your confident instructions to passers-by will send them to squares they have never heard of, over canals not listed in the notes.

Although wherever you are going is always in front of you, there is no such thing as straight ahead. No as the crow flies short cut will help you to reach the cafe just over the water. The short cuts are where the cats go, through the impossible gaps, round corners that seem to take you the opposite way. But here, in this mercurial city, it is required you do awake your faith.

With faith, all things are possible."

(page 49)

This description is almost an extended metaphor for the plot of the book itself. Winding its way from the barren Waterloo battlefield to the cutthroat Casino underworld of 19th century Venice, it is a historical fiction tour de force (Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife, Josephine, make a couple cameos as well).

Favorite quote: "Everyone in Venice has their weakness and their vice. Perhaps not only in Venice. Does she invite them to supper and hold them with her eyes and explain, a little sadly, that she can't make love? Perhaps this is her passion. Passion out of passion's obstacles. And me? Every game threatens a wild card. The unpredictable, the out of control. Even with a steady hand and a crystal ball we couldn't rule the world the way we wanted it. There are storms at sea and there are other storms inland. Only the convent windows look serenely out on both."

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