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Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.

Written on the Body

Written on the Body - Jeanette Winterson Although I quite love Winterson's ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT and THE PASSION, and was very fond of SEXING THE CHERRY, I'm afraid I'm not quite as enthralled with WRITTEN ON THE BODY, which I first read back in 1992 and have just re-read. Part of the problem I have with this novel is the assumption Winterson makes in the opening sentence: "why is the measure of love loss?" This assumes that the measure of love IS loss, and I'm not sure what a reader is supposed to do with the rest of the book if she disagrees with the opening premise. Still, I will allow that this is the position of the narrator, and not an authorial premise (although that's a bit of a hard sell, since Winterson so loves the authorial intrusion). This means I see the narrator -- whose gender is never reveals -- as a rather Romantic figure, wallowing in a tragedy, simply radiant with loss. The plot, such as it is, is very thin. The narrator, who has a habit of seducing married women, seduces one more, Louise -- a woman characterized thinly, by only her beauty and a tendency to make rather overly-poetic statements. The narrator then gives her up with alarming ease when s/he discovers Louise is suffering a form of leukemia only her oncologist husband is able to cure. Granted, Winterson has said she has no interest in plot whatsoever, only in language, but a little effort would be nice. Language for its own sake begins to sound pretty self-indulgent after a while, no matter how pretty it is. Then, too, there is something nasty about the word choices. When the narrator touches, or rather invades, Louise's sick body, this is what Wintersen writes: "Will your skin discolour, its brightness blurring? Will your neck and spleen distend? Will the rigorous contours of your stomach swell under an infertile load?" Good grief. And then the narrator turns into an embalmer who prepares "'to hook out your brain through your accommodating orifices," and to dissect Louise with "a medical diagram and a cloth to mop up the mess, I'll have you bagged neat and tidy. I'll store you in plastic like chicken livers."This certainly doesn't sound like the language of love to me. (Is it possibly some revenge dream of the author, larded over with a fictional front?) I admit to not being a fan of post-modernist writers, who I feel often opt for clever over compassion (and I'm rather big on compassion and empathy in fiction), but in the other Winterson works I cited above, I felt the cleverness was matched by the authors affection and yes, compassion, for her characters. The poetic language and imagery was in service to the characters. I don't find that here. WRITTEN ON THE BODY tries to hard to be enchant the reader with all that glittering prose, but it's too self-conscious, too self-serving and too cruel for my taste.