Cecily's Reviews > The Gap of Time: The Winter’s Tale Retold

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
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Thematically, this was a good follow-on from a read of Nicole Krauss’ exquisite The History of Love (see my review HERE): the first few pages alone included death, bereavement, forgiveness, revenge, loss of a child, identity, God, loyalty and love - as well as capitalism, mercy killing, and madness.

Stylistically, there was no comparison: this is a simpler story - despite the numerous references to changing the speed, or even direction of time - and it’s mostly told in rather crude and wooden prose (very un-Winterson), especially the many male perspectives. Disappointing (2.5*, rounded up to 3*), hence hard to review.

What is Family?

So many stories of lost and found. As though the whole of history is a vast Lost-Property Department.

Could I give up my child? No.
Could I love someone else’s child as much as if that child had been born to me? I don’t think so.
And yet I don’t believe that family is purely about blood.
Unconditional love of a child not born to you is surely the most selfless love of all.
I suppose I am a selfish person, except in relation to my child, who is, and always will be, a part of me.

This is Shakespeare’s tale of a foundling, retold for and in the 21st century. As Winterson wrote in her brilliant autobiography, Why Be Happy when you Could be Normal? (see my review HERE), "Adopted children are self-invented... adoption drops you into the story after it has started". Time, and the sequence of a story, is a recurring theme (as are Superman and Oedipus).

The missingness of the missing… Every endeavor, every kiss, every stab in the heart, every letter home, every leaving, is a ransack of what’s in front of us in the service of what’s lost.

A few days after I finished reading this, I saw Kenneth Branagh's version of The Winter's Tale (see my review HERE). In that, redemption and forgiveness are more prominent than the child lost and found - because Perdita doesn't know she's not her father's daughter until the denouement. Presumably, Winterson made Shep black so that everyone always knew, and thus the foundling angle, a common thread in her work (that mirrors her own life) comes to the fore. Seeing the stage version also made me more appreciative of what Winterson has achieved here in general. My grudging 3* for this became a solid 3*.

New and Alternative Realities

The baby had lain like the visible corner of a folded map. Traced inside her, faded now, were parents she would never know and a life that had vanished. Alternative routes she wouldn’t take. People she would never meet. The would-be-that-wouldn’t-be.

We enjoy visiting other realms: through books, films, dreams. We invent and reinvent ourselves, not always consciously. We do it over time, and to some extent, according to context and company: my colleagues see a subtly different Cecily from the one my family sees, and friends see yet other facets.

Adopted children have more necessity and scope defining themselves. Perdita, her adoptive father, Shep, and brother, Clo, have to create a reality: a past, a present, and hence a future. Shep thinks he tells her the truth, or at least, as much as he can, but it’s predicated on lies and unknowns. “She had stopped asking questions because there weren’t any answers.”

Perdita’s identity may be mysterious, but she is raised with love and comes to believe in herself as she is. In contrast, those involved in her conception and abandonment know who they are, but have more problematic relations with reality, and hence find happiness elusive.

As children of (different) dysfunctional parents, “Leo and Xeno invented worlds where they could live”, but they never fully grow up or develop the ability to be responsible parents themselves.

Leo makes the world revolve around him, as super-rich City traders can. But even he can’t live happily in this world, much less his wife MiMi and their children. Madness and destruction beckon.

Meanwhile, Xeno devotes himself to virtual worlds, developing a video game, The Gap of Time. At Level 4, “Time becomes a player. Time can stand still, move faster, slow down”. But it can’t reverse, can it (unless you’re Superman)? Reality is further muddied, because the game features Dark Angels, echoing the song that made MiMi famous, which is in turn based on de Nerval’s dream (see "Fall", below).

And MiMi retreats to an ambiguous existence, maybe in the game, maybe in the world, maybe both - or even neither. Life and death have different meanings in virtual worlds.

Those are the facts but are they the truths?

Fall

There is much falling here: falling in love, falling (or being pushed) over, falling between gaps of time or buildings, the autumnal fall of leaves, and of course, as a metaphor for the expulsion from Paradise.

Tying them together is a catch-22 allegory, dreamed by French poet, Gérard de Nerval: an angel fell into the courtyard between buildings, trapped by his wings, which he’d folded as he fell. To free himself, would destroy the homes and maybe those within. To stay, was certain, slow death. Meanwhile, an old woman stuffed a pillow with the feathers that drifted into her apartment.

Weaknesses

I don’t want to put people off Winterson, but I do want a note of why I didn’t warm to this. The bullet points below are not spoilers in terms of plot.
(view spoiler)

For balance, here are my reviews of three Wintersons I’ve enjoyed in recent years, all 4*:
The Passion
Lighthousekeeping
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Context : Shakespeare to Winterson

This is a modern story, based on Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. I’d not read the play, and had no memory of seeing it performed in my teens. I chose to read this novel in its own right. Winterson, or her publisher, had other ideas: the book starts with a shortish chapter titled “The Original”, which summarises the play. It’s followed by “The Cover Version”, which is in three acts, complete with “intervals”. A few days later, I saw the play, reviewed HERE.

It’s one of a series of modern novelisations of the Bard, commissioned by The Hogarth Press to mark 400 years since his death (http://crownpublishing.com/hogarth-sh...). It’s no surprise Winterson chose The Winter’s Tale, given its parallels to her own life.

Winterson was put up for adoption by her birth mother, and never loved by her abusive adoptive Pentecostalist mother (her adoptive father being too weak to intervene). She escaped via literature, especially Shakespeare, and then by writing. Like Perdita here, “Not having a history of her own, she was drawn to the history of others”, mostly fictional ones.

In later life, Winterson met her birth mother and some family members, though it was not a particularly happy-ever-after.

She’s explicitly written about her origins in the fictionalised growing-up story, Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, (see my review HERE), and in her recent memoirs, Why Be Happy when you Could be Normal?, (see my review HERE), but the themes of loss, abandonment, adoption, and the power of literature permeate her works. This is no exception.

See also Margaret Atwood's clever reworking of The Tempest, titled Hag-Seed, which I reviewed HERE.

Quotes
Forgiveness
Winterson categorises three types of ending: revenge, tragedy and forgiveness. The story features all three drivers, but forgiveness is at its heart and at its end, though you might not expect that from this early quote:
• “Forgiveness is a word like a tiger - there’s footage of it and verifiably it exists but few of us have seen it close and wild or known it for what it is.”

Time
• “You think you’re living in the present but the past is right behind you like a shadow.”
• “And then everything happened in slow motion and too fast.”
• “Beyond lay the river, like possibilities, like plans, wide as life when you are young and don’t know that plans, rivers, possibilities must sooner or later empty into the ocean beyond.”
• “Sometimes it doesn’t matter that there was any time before this time… Sometimes where you are is enough. It’s not that time stops or that it hasn’t started. This is time,. You are here. This caught moment opening into a lifetime.”
• “The past is a grenade that explodes when thrown.”
• “The past lies in wait as an ambush.”
• “There’s Big Ben telling clock time, and down below there’s the Thames telling liquid time, and in the small space they occupy their own time is real.”
• “Watching the water that has no memory and wanting to be like the water.”
• “She walks to stop herself standing still. As though she could walk out of time, put it behind her where it belongs. But she can’t because it’s always right there, right in front of her.”

Memory
• “What is memory anyway but a painful dispute with the past?”
• “He doesn’t take a photo or a video because he wants to remember - by which he means he wants to misremember.”

Grief and Loss
• “I don’t regret it but I can't forgive it. I did the right thing but it was wrong… We were one flesh… I didn’t do it to end my wife’s pain; I did it to end my own.”
• “My wife no longer exists… But my mind is full of her. If she had never lived… they’d lock me up for being delusional. As it is, I’m grieving.”
• “Grief means living with someone who is not there.”

Other
• “Gaming is the best technology mated with prehistoric levels of human development.”
• City trading is like Musical Chairs, “while the music was playing no one cared that there weren’t enough chairs”.
• “The boarding school was neither fashionable nor academic but it allowed their fathers to believe that they were bringing up their sons when in fact their sons were barely at home.”
• “He was solitary and introverted, with an enthusiasm that people took for sociability.”
• “They talked about life as flow… About love as a theory marred by practice. About love as a practice marred by theory.”
• “Pauline was a woman of her time. She hadn’t had the leisure for a relationship. She had been a career woman all her life. She noted there was no such thing as a career man. She had made her choices. No regrets. But there were losses. There always are.”
• “A white shirt so obsessively unwrinkled it looked like it had been ironed with Botox.” !
• “Celebrities are fictional characters. Just because they are alive doesn’t make them real.”

Image source of twisted clock face: https://st2.depositphotos.com/1526952...
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Reading Progress

February 3, 2016 – Started Reading
February 3, 2016 – Shelved
February 4, 2016 –
page 49
15.31% "So much in so few pages: foundlings, bereavement, revenge, forgiveness, mercy killing, capitalism, madness, God. \n Thematically, it's a good follow-on from The History of Love.\n Stylistically, not. It rarely reads like Winterson, yet."
February 6, 2016 –
page 127
39.69% "Finally, a glimpse - but only a glimpse - of Winterson the wordsmith. Generally, a quick but disappointing read so far."
February 6, 2016 –
page 320
100.0% "There was almost none of the carefully crafted and poetic prose I expect from Winterson. It improved a little towards the end, but only a little. Mostly, she was channelling voices and people she seems to have little experience of."
February 6, 2016 – Finished Reading
February 7, 2016 – Shelved as: miscellaneous-fiction

Comments Showing 1-25 of 25 (25 new)

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Cecily Thanks, and yes - but we probably have just as many uses for "spring": a season, to pounce, a metal coil, a water source, and many others, only loosely related to those.


message 2: by Dolors (last edited Feb 08, 2016 12:11AM) (new)

Dolors I have the feeling I would have preferred to read a novel based on Winterson's life experiences than a remake on Shakespeare's play; which I just took a mental notice to read in the nearby future.
Quite a balanced review, Cecily! I find 3-star books the most difficult to review (I often skip doing so), so kudos to you for trying and achieving such a satisfactory result.


Cecily Thanks, I think "satisfactory" is the key word - for the book and my review of it.

Winterson famously adores and was saved by Shakespeare, and she usually writes lyrically and engagingly. I don't know what happened here, but I just didn't connect with it emotionally, so reverted to a book-report style of review.

Had it been written by an author I was unfamiliar with, I might have enjoyed it more, which is one reason why I rounded my 2.5* up.

Her life is fascinating, and I enjoyed the novel of her upbringing (Oranges) very much, though it's years since I read it. The recent, non-fiction version (Why Be Happy?) is, I think, even better, because she also looks at the role literature has played in her life,.


message 4: by Dolors (new)

Dolors Cecily wrote: "Her life is fascinating, and I enjoyed the novel of her upbringing (Oranges) very much, though it's years since I read it. The recent, non-fiction version (Why Be Happy?) is, I think, even better, because she also looks at the role literature has played in her life,. ."

Thanks for elaborating, Cecily.
I will keep my mind open to read the titles you mention, but I will probably exhaust the Shakespeare's plays I have left to read before I do so...


message 5: by Seemita (new)

Seemita You make a compelling case despite the veritable shortcomings, Cecily. Because I am caught up with a few quotes you have shared (the one about forgiveness was a smasher!), I foresee this still being a case well-contained to fall on either side.


message 6: by Apatt (new)

Apatt That time vortex picture looks familiar ;)
I know what you mean about people seeing different Cecilies, the town one and the country one especially! I'm glad you are reading all these books that I couldn't possibly read so I can just vicariously enjoy them through you and then go back to reading my usual rubbish.
Two Thumbs up! ;)


Wanda I hadn't thought about how Winterson's own adoption history might have affected her view of this story--thank you, Cecily, for something new to consider re: The Gap of Time.


Cecily Seemita wrote: "You make a compelling case despite the veritable shortcomings, Cecily...."

Thanks. I think it would work better for those who are not attached to Winterson, and that it could provide worthwhile discussion for students studying The Winter's Tale. But I'm in neither category.


message 9: by Cecily (last edited Feb 08, 2016 10:30AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cecily Apatt wrote: "That time vortex picture looks familiar ;)"

I resisted the temptation to use a TARDIS, but knew you'd appreciate even this.

Apatt wrote: "! I'm glad you are reading all these books that I couldn't possibly read so I can just vicariously enjoy them through you and then go back to reading my usual rubbish."

Yes, it's entirely altruistic on my part. ;)
This wasn't a bad book; just not one I greatly enjoyed.
And anyway, you read all sorts of stuff that I won't read, and hardly any of it's rubbish.
But Buns should return by the end of the month.

Apatt wrote: "Two Thumbs up! ;) ."

Back at ya!
:)


message 10: by Cecily (last edited Feb 12, 2016 03:51PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cecily Wanda wrote: "I hadn't thought about how Winterson's own adoption history might have affected her view of this story--thank you, Cecily, for something new to consider re: The Gap of Time."

It's relevant to at least some extent in all the writings of hers that I've read, and she made it much more prominent here than in Shakespeare's original.


message 11: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala This is a Winterson tale I hadn't heard of, Cecily - thanks for pointing me in its direction.
But the wooden prose you mention? I wonder what she could have been thinking because she often seems to attach almost too much importance to the language she uses, trying super hard to make it fit the theme....


Cecily Fionnuala wrote: "But the wooden prose you mention? I wonder what she could have been thinking because she often seems to attach almost too much importance to the language she uses, trying super hard to make it fit the theme...."

It surprised me, too. It wasn't so much fitting the theme as fitting the characters and settings she'd chosen to explore the theme. Her American men were especially weak, as if she was trying too hard to conjure something familiar from TV.

But that makes it sound worse than it was. It's not a bad book, but it just doesn't feel like Winterson.


message 13: by Kevin (last edited Mar 20, 2016 03:06PM) (new)

Kevin Ansbro I'd never heard of Jeanette Winterson prior to reading your carefully assembled (and excellent) review, Cecily.
The 'crude, wooden prose', of which you speak, has certainly subdued any yen to investigate further.
But total respect for constructing such a detailed, fair-minded critique. In fact, a review of this length deserves its own post code!

A high calibre piece of writing, Cecily. You are unfailingly good at this!


Cecily Kevin wrote: "I'd never heard of Jeanette Winterson prior to reading your carefully assembled (and excellent) review, Cecily. "

Thanks for your generous words about my review. Don't let my luke warm feelings about this put you off her in general.

I confess I'm surprised you've not heard of Winterson - not even Oranges, if only for the infamous lesbian sex in the BBC adaptation in the late 1980s? (Also, I posted a review of The Passion only a few short months ago!)

;)


message 15: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Ansbro Oh, God, I have the memory of a goldfish, Cecily.
Ask Mrs A!


Cecily Just as long as your memory doesn't let you forget Mrs A!


message 17: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Ansbro Who the heck is Mrs A?


Cecily Touché.


message 19: by Ellie (new)

Ellie Fascinating review, Cecily. I usually love Winterson so I don't know if I'll read this one (although I also find The Winter's Tale an interesting play).

I think I could love an adopted child as much as a biological one but that's something I'll never know for sure. I do think the adopted child is haunted by his or her origins.


Cecily Ellie wrote: "Fascinating review, Cecily. I usually love Winterson so I don't know if I'll read this one (although I also find The Winter's Tale an interesting play)."

Thank you, Ellie. I wouldn't rush to recommend this over other Wintersons I've enjoyed more - unless you particularly want a new angle on The Winter's Tale.

Ellie wrote: "I think I could love an adopted child as much as a biological one..."

You're a better person than I am.

Ellie wrote: "I do think the adopted child is haunted by his or her origins."

From the few I know, it seems to vary hugely. Some are very haunted all their lives, some not at all, and for others, it varies, depending on what's going on in their lives.


Roger Brunyate It seems we have quite a few books in common (in addition to both being British). I have looked at a few of your reviews now too, and admire your detail, although if I wrote at such length I'd never get much reading done.

I've been following all the Hogarth Shakespeare titles as they have come out, and am prepared to be more tolerant with them than I would with standalone novels. Like you, I saw the Branagh production (simulcast in a cinema) shortly after reading this. But it had a different effect on me. For one thing, it has always been one of my favorite plays. For another, I have been spoiled by the Met Opera simulcasts, and this one seemed terrible in technical quality, organization, and production values by comparison; my wife and I walked out at intermission.

All of which is to suggest that you look at one or two of my reviews and see if you want to be "friends." You should know, however, that I have only recently begun transferring my old Amazon reviews to Goodreads, and they are likely to see haphazard and all over the place. But if verbal discussion is what you look for, at some length, I believe I can provide it! Roger.


Cecily Roger wrote: "It seems we have quite a few books in common (in addition to both being British). I have looked at a few of your reviews now too, and admire your detail..."

Thank you, Roger. I've taken a peek at some of your reviews... I'm impressed (and a tad intimidated). Nationality-wise, I don't mind where my friends are from.


Cecily Cecily wrote: "Thank you, Roger. I've taken a peek at some of your reviews... I'm impressed (and a tad intimidated). Nationality-wise, I don't mind where my friends are from."

Happy to see this comment is now way out of date, my friend.


message 24: by Margitte (new)

Margitte You have such a broad knowledge of literature. There is always something interesting to find in your reviews. Informative. Excellent review.


Cecily Margitte wrote: "You have such a broad knowledge of literature. There is always something interesting to find in your reviews. Informative. Excellent review."

You're very generous. Having more than a decade of review on GR helps enhance the impression of knowledge. 😉


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