Friday, 14 August 2015

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson

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.

There is just something bold and difficult and straightforward about Winterson's writing that hits me really hard. I'm contemplating recommending this book for our next round at the book club, because I so desperately want to discuss it with people.

(That first sentence, if you are interested, was:  "I used to think of marriage as a plate-glass window just begging for a brick.")

I am so intoxicated by this book. It's sardonic, it's sexy, it's difficult. It's about love, and cheating, and grief, and loss, and realizing that what you thought was heroism wasn't. It's not easy, at any point. It's thorny, and that reminds me of another paragraph that almost had me gasping for air, about the difficulties of outdoor sex. 

Winterson just keeps pushing, past platitudes, past pat phrases, past what we think is going to happen or how it should happen to create something so raw, so intense, so hard, and loving, and contradictory. 

I am trying to tell you why I loved this book, and I feel like I'm doing a terrible job of it. Yet I don't think a synopsis is going to help. I will try anyway. 

The narrator is genderless, but I will fully admit I always perceived them as female. Perhaps because of what I know of Jeanette Winterson, and reading that into the text. Still, the entire book never genders the narrator, although it definitely does gender their lovers, predominantly but not entirely female. 

The narrator has had a lot of affairs with married women, and we hear about many of them, but then there is one who means it when she says she'll leave her husband and go away with her lover. There is the messiness of that emerging relationship, what it does to other relationships, the joys and sorrows and mundanity of breaking someone's heart while finding your own.

And then there is illness, and tough decisions, and mourning, and trying to do what's right, but realizing later that there is no such thing as right, and your decisions were not heroic but brutal.  

That's about all I can give you. This book, it's all about the prose. The prose and the way it made it difficult for me to breathe as I negotiated my way through it. (It's also far far sexier than the book of erotica I just posted a review of before I sat down to write this.) Just...read it. I finished it a few days ago, and there are still not the words. It has taken the words from me.

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