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Written on the Body

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  25,326 ratings  ·  1,823 reviews
Written on the Body is a secret code only visible in certain lights: the accumulation of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like braille. I like to keep my body rolled away from prying eyes, never unfold too much, tell the whole story. I didn't know that Louise would have reading hands. She has translated me into he ...more
Paperback, 190 pages
Published February 1st 1994 by Vintage International (first published 1992)
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Anne I don't know if it's the most important part, but it is very important. Exactly, as a reader you have to judge actions and decisions free from gender …moreI don't know if it's the most important part, but it is very important. Exactly, as a reader you have to judge actions and decisions free from gender expectations. But what's more, I noticed that it just emphasised for me how arbitrary gender norms are, and how crazy it is that this sediment of opinions on behaviour influences our lives and our image of ourselves and others so much.

I think the other important thread is the narrator's views on romantic love. The attitude towards it is pretty similar: why follow culture-bound rules on love if they don't make you as an individual happy? The book is not without its faults, but it does invite the reader to investigate whether aspects of culture can be artificial and arbitrary, and I think that is very valuable.(less)
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  25,326 ratings  ·  1,823 reviews

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“The pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap a message on to my skin, tap meaning into my body. Your morse code interferes with my heart beat. I had a steady heart before I met you, I relied upon it, it had seen active service and grown strong. Now you alter its pace with your own rhythm, you play upon me, drumming me taut.”

I got completely lost in this book, in a good way. I was wholly wrapped up in the writing, basking in the beauty of the prose. I’ve not read a lot of Jeanet
Feb 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: romantics
You know how it is when your friends fall madly in love with someone (a new girlfriend), or something (Guitar Hero, Battlestar Galactica), and wear you out during the honeymoon phase babbling on about his/her/its awesomeness, sometimes in excruciating detail? If you're not in a similar situation, or worse, wish you were, it's damn near unendurable.

For God's sake, don't read this book unless you can stand to read about sheer, uninhibited passion, often in graphic detail. The pointedly genderless
Apr 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those sick with love
Shelves: read-in-2018
A genderless narrator leafs through past affairs with men and women, contrasting them with his/her present relationship with Louise, a married woman.
What I most admired about Winterson’s approach to this tragic romance is the naturalness with which she approaches homosexual and bisexual relationships, which makes a case for the idea that gender is but a sociocultural construct, a concept that certainly shouldn’t define the traits of any relationship, or in this case, of the narrator, who seems
It is hard to review Jeanette Winterson.

Every single one of her short novels is a work of art, beautiful and painfully true while magically exploring the limits of reality.

I read The Passion and thought I would not like it, because I don't do historical fiction. It was breath-taking, unbelievable, eye-opening. The recurring theme accompanies me ever since: "Somewhere between fear and sex, passion is."

I read Sexing the Cherry and thought I could not possibly like it more, because The Passion mad
On the surface, this is a sensual, reflective, and sometimes humorous recollection of the narrator’s loves won and lost, compared with the current one. Unwelcome news triggers a difficult choice, with huge ramifications. It was made with love, but was it the right decision, and did the narrator even have the right to make it? It’s a curious amalgam of styles, yet unmistakably Winterson, including a set of short, more abstract sections, and the fact the bisexual narrator’s gender is unspecified.
Jeanette Winterson impressed me last year when I read her magical tale of historical fiction, The Passion. Her poetic, interior style really resonated with me. Her work lays deep in the physical heart while also sparkling on an ethereal plane.

This book knocked me out. Her sheer artistry had me in admiration. A bit slack-jawed, actually. For example, the main character is not only nameless (I've seen that before) but is an 'every-person': Winterson doesn't tell us if they are male or female. Quit
Sep 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who loves love
I was reading thru some of the reviews for this book. I'll just say that it's beautifully written. This book moved me. I cried with about twenty pages to go. My heart expanded and ached a little bit. I felt for the narrator (who we have to guess woman or man?) and for Louise. I love the narrator. This book is about love, relationships, loss, and is a bit hope filled at the end. The opening sentence: Why is the measure of love loss? and the book takes you from there. I finished it in a day. Not a ...more
Mar 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Her artistry makes my mouth drop open. The most poetic, passionate, erotic book, it sits on my shelf with Duras' The Lover and Rikki Ducornet's The Word Desire and Anne Carson's The Beauty of the Husband. But it could also be shelved with Proust's Swann's Way for the sensual cling of memory and Chekhov's Lady with the Lapdog for its sadness. The poetry of its prose is incomparable. A meditation on sensual life and the meaning of love. As Carson said, 'Beauty is what makes sex, sex." A lover of u ...more
Mar 10, 2012 rated it really liked it


Listen along (please):


When you fall in love with someone, I mean really fall, you become obsessed with the things that are written on the body. The scar on her elbow from when she tripped over the curb, the chip in his tooth from when he fell from his skateboard… that tiny birthmark behind her knee. Each mark tells a story. Knowing the story brings you closer. The burn mark on her hand from when she
Dec 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Love demands expression. It will not stay still, stay silent, be good, be modest, be seen and not heard, no. It will break out in tongues of praise, the high note that smashes the glass and spills the liquid"

"Written on the body" is a captivating and beautifully written story of all the pleasure and in turn, the heartache, loving someone can cause. The way Winterson writes, is actually almost magical. Her words are almost like silk, but they are at the same time, so, so powerful.

I have to admit
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to booksNpenguins by: Swaye
Can love have texture? It is palpable to me, the feeling between us, I weight it in my hands the way I weight your head in my hands.
It gives me a loose-limbed confidence to know you'll be there. I'm expected.
There's continuum. There's freedom.

Written On The Body is more than a book, more than a story, more than anything even remotely quantifiable.
Written on the Body is an accurate study on the power of consequences, a retrospection on pure and unconditionate love, written with the passion
Mar 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2019
An interesting, sometimes funny, moving meditation on love and loss. The narrator, a translator of Russian fiction, is never named and his/her gender is deliberately ambiguous - he/she describes relationships with a number of lovers, mostly female but some male. The first half is fairly light in tone, as he/she describes the various affairs leading up to and including the dominant one which forms the main theme of the story, with a married woman called Louise, whose husband Elgin is a cancer spe ...more
Jun 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
I tried really hard to like Jeanette Winterson, because most of the women I respect think she is amazing. But I just think she is fumbling and kind of incompetent. And for me her charisma, great passion, and several devastating one-liners don't compensate for her imprecision, scattered incoherence, or the clamminess of her authorial 'I.'

Can't do it.

(Wait, don't leave! I like Anais Nin. Seriously...)
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jun 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: favorites, read07
This was an amazing book. It starts out as a story of an affair, but the second half is more of a memory about or a lovestory to the lover's body. It's impossible to tell whether the storyteller is a man or woman, but this is so well written - sad, reflective, happy, joyful - it works through every emotion. I will have to buy it for myself.

A few quotes that were meaningful to me:

"I will taste you if only through your cooking."

"When I say 'I will be true to you' I am drawing a quiet space beyond
marissa  sammy
Jan 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: those who talk incessantly about their love affairs to bored overly-polite friends
Recommended to marissa sammy by: i read this for a class
Gah -- I found this insufferably narcissistic and eye-rolling to read, devoid of any sympathetic characters save the zoo-lady Jacqueline, and incredibly unsatisfying in every way. The only reason I gave it two stars is because Winterson obviously has talent -- there were a few places where the imagery was striking enough to pierce my annoyance -- and clearly this is a matter of taste and preference. It's technically and emotionally proficient, but just doesn't resonate with me personally. ...more
Feb 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very intimate. The protagonist is sexless, a human in full capacity of the senses--& it is quite a feat to have a plot-less book revolving around sex and love. All of Winterson's novels are unique & original. This one is the least magical and least memorable--but still pretty darn remarkable. ...more
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: adults
Shelves: contemporary-lit
I don't believe I've ever read anyone who writes quite like Jeanette Winterson. She writes with a kind of sensuality that leaps over the conventional, making it arousing and painfully sad at the same time. It is incredible how she has managed to write a book in which you know not even the gender of the main character, but you know their emotions as intimately as if they were your own. After a single reading of this book, it became one of my favorites; not because the story is tragic (and it is), ...more
Roman Clodia
Mar 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is so terrifying, love

In less than 200 pages, Winterson has written something both light and profound, immensely intimate and yet somehow public, replete with humour and anguish, selfishness and care, and which moves from high comedy (wit, satire, absurdity) to something very moving. The writing is lush and sensuous, but always intelligent as connections are made via words and language to join ideas that don't traditionally belong together.

In lots of ways this is a story that has been do
Winterson goes deep. This is a story of a woman obsessed with love and intimacy, and yet so terrified of commitment that she finds herself in a pattern of falling for women who are married to men. She sees her pattern, knows she must fight against it for her health and happiness, and so commits to a sweet, steady woman who gets all the boxes checked in the healthy relationship department. Of course, this isn’t an authentic connection, but rather a rejection of herself, squelched because she beli ...more
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to El by: The F-Word
This is the second book now that I've read by Jeanette Winterson and I just want to keep reading her. Her stories are familiar, as in I can recognize that each is written by Winterson, because she has a way with words that not many authors can manage even if they wanted to. It's distinctly Winterson, and that's refreshing.

In this book, we have a genderless narrator. What does that mean? The narrator may in fact have a gender, but the point is that we, as the readers, do not have any idea. Is the
Looking over my shelves, I came across this book again and I can't believe I had rated it only three stars, barely categorized it, and went about my merry way.


I remember reading this in one night, after crashing at a friend's house, after idly picking it up and suddenly dedicating the next however many hours of the night into the sickly morning to going all the way. All the way in it. Submerged. All the way to the bitter fucking end.

I think I wrote a long, detiled, passionate review of th
Jul 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: launch-vehicle
Once you've brained your mortality, salivated about an affair, or lost a loved one, Written on the Body I believe goes from 4 to 5 star worthy, climbs from a tawdry tale to a lovingly wrought prose poem. More contemporary than Graham Greene's The End of the Affair this narrative questions the responsibility of lovers to one another.

At the beginning one is certain the narrator female, but by midway testosterone seems to bitterly flavor the advance. However you take this tender sexless narrator (
Dan Robinson
Dec 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This was a very provocative read for me. There were challenges to what is left of my sense of right and wrong in relationships, there is again that great question of what makes life meaningful and whether one needs another for there to be real meaning in life. Actually, maybe that is not the question the author struggles with - it may be more that real passion in life comes with relationship with another and that respecting that is the real ethic in living. The book ends with several pages of re ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary
"Written on the Body" is an extremely thoughtful, poetic and emotionally authentic novel about the fictional narrator's love affairs with women. I am amazed I somewhat liked it. Not only is it a novel of intense and analyzed descriptions of emotional and physical love in romantic sexual relationships, woman after woman (I HATE the Romance genre generally, with few exceptions), but the book struck me at first that it might be written in a type of literary writing which I usually find unappealing. ...more
Jun 18, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: romantics.
Simply put, this is the story of someone (man or woman, who knows? My guess is man, but it doesn't really matter) who is in love with a woman named Louise. They have to overcome a series of hurdles, such as their relationships with other people and a terminal disease.

It's a very quick read - I blazed through this in about 2-3 days of reading on the subway. A quick reader could probably finish in one day of dedicated reading. However, despite how easy it is to read, it's also a little overwhelmin
Sep 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book contains one of my favorite passages of all time; here's a little excerpt:

"When I say 'I will be true to you' I am drawing a quiet space beyond the reach of other desires. No-one 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 the one thing stronger than desire and the only proper reason to resist temptation....

When I say 'I will be true to you' I m
Flawless. Over the years this book has become a part of me.
❀ annie ❀
took me a while to get into but this book is AMAZING. such a beautiful and poetic read, and my first from jeanette winterson since i read 'oranges are not the only fruit' for my a-levels. definitely going to be picking up some more now.

this is probably the last book i'll be reading for my undergrad degree; i'm so glad to have ended it with a banger :)
Megan Baxter
Jul 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was less than two pages into this book before I found a sentence that so utterly took my breath away that I sat staring at the page, and eventually had to walk up the stairs so I could show it to my husband. This was merely the first time - every couple of pages collections of words that were like a punch in the gut kept coming, and each time, I fell a little more in love with this book.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You
Feb 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was my first introduction to Jeanette Winterson's work. I read it in college for a class on contemporary fiction. I have to admit, I was blown away by her writing style, it is so unique. This book moved me to no end. I didn't care if the narrator was male or female, it really didn't matter. The way Jeanette was able to craft the words on paper to make me feel what the narrator was feeling and experiencing was what made this book memorable to me. Now I'm totally hooked. ...more
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Novelist Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester, England in 1959. She was adopted and brought up in Accrington, Lancashire, in the north of England. Her strict Pentecostal Evangelist upbringing provides the background to her acclaimed first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, published in 1985. She graduated from St Catherine's College, Oxford, and moved to London where she worked as an assi ...more

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