Friday, May 27, 2005

sexing the fish

because sometimes i have more to say than will fit in a pop-up window.

the first Jeanette Winterson book i read was Sexing the Cherry, given to me my senior year of high school by an English teacher who shall remain nameless, as i promised not to reveal to anyone that she was my source. i don't know, i suppose it was something of a controversial choice (but then, i was a controversial child).

i was completely blown away. i'd never read anything like it, & oh, how it lingered.
it opened thus:

The Hopi, an Indian tribe, have a language as sophisticated as ours, but no tenses for past, present, and future. The division does not exist. What does this say about time?

Matter, that thing the most solid and the well-known, which you are holding in your hands and which makes up your body, is now known to be mostly empty space. Empty space and points of light. What does this say about the reality of the world?

& the novel goes on to answer these questions, after a fashion, with a cross between a fairy tale, a historical adventure (which is really not so different from a fairy tale, actually) & modern science. wheeee!
i loved the book's notions of personality, of the malleability of time & space, & above all the magnificent & mysterious bending of language, like light through water or glass. (see? it's getting to me even now.)

i think her first novel was Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, a somewhat straightforward yet surreal autobiographical-childhood novel. i wasn't as moved by this one, as i think those elements of her style that i love most were still in the formative stages, though it's been years since i read it, so it's difficult to say accurately. it is, however, also the only one of her works to make it to film, as a BBC series that i've never managed to see. (you! British-fish! find it & report back to the fish!)

the next book i read was Art & Lies, absolutely, without doubt one of my favorite books of all time. i've owned more copies of this than i can remember, because i keep giving them away, shoving them into people hands with an exuberant "you have to read this" (much like Cherry, or, for that matter, Good Omens, Small Gods, & Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World.)

Art & Lies somehow is able to encompass fragments & microcosms of every human condition, every aspect of a soul's involvement with its world. it's stunningly beautiful; it is art while it speaks of art. see? i'm glowing.

How can i come close to the meaning of my days? I will lasso them to me with the whirling word. The word carried quietly at my side, the word spun out, vigorous, precise, the word that traps time before time traps me.

& that's just me opening to a random page, which happened to be one of Sappho's.
ahem: (picture me shoving book in your hands) You have to read this. Now.

when introducing peoples to Winterson's work i usually start with either Art & Lies or Gut Symmetries, which blends advanced mathematics with myths & sex. talk about archetypes; this book is a complex & gorgoes take on the Romantic Triangle. go forth & be symbolic, kinda thing. "Does time wear a watch?"

i seem to be losing my train of thought here, i keep being distracted by the books themselves, & Lord knows it'd be madness to try to read them all at once. so i'll just say, The Passion is far too beautiful & clever for its own good, like a Venitian Comtesse at a masquerade ball. read it if you want to know what that has to do with Napoleon's chickens. hell, read it anway.

her short stories are like surreal photographs, & the Powerbook wasn't as good as i wanted it to be. is she losing sight of her skills? who knows, but she's got a new one out, Lighthousekeeping, & i'm going to find out.

14 little fish:

Blogger theleftsock swam up to say...

i think i read them all...

2:47 PM  
Blogger anne swam up to say...

That is one hell of a déclaration d'amour. And a very efficient sales blurb, it's all on the shopping list now.

7:04 PM  
Blogger mysfit swam up to say...

i loooooovvvedd Gut Symmetries and had the hardest time getting through Art & lies - to this day i'm not sure i finished it...

2:23 AM  
Blogger transience swam up to say...

what an ode. i would probably get my hands on the rest of them, thanks to you.

10:04 PM  
Blogger phylos swam up to say...

The BBC's Oranges are Not the Only Fruit is on DVD over here - you got a birthday coming up?

5:21 AM  
Blogger jenn see swam up to say...

unfortunately not, by birthday was in march.

but perhaps if it can be bought it can be rented or downloaded...

wait where's "here"? will dvd's "here" also work "there", eg here?

12:07 PM  
Blogger phylos swam up to say...

Oh - good point. I've a multi region DVD as I buy US DVDs on mail order, pay airmail to the UK and still save about 30%. Can't see the reverse process being too popular. have the VHS, but I think the DVD is only available in the UK. Most DVD players have cracks which will unlock the region code. Try a Google search?

2:16 PM  
Blogger JP swam up to say...

OK, I'll bite. Winterson is now on my list of authors to try. Only, the sole book by her I've seen on the shelves here (Bangalore, India, in this case) is The Powerbook. Is it worth a shot?

6:09 AM  
Blogger jenn see swam up to say...

Powerbook is a good read but not one of my favorites; she's not really at her best.
it might be a good start to see if you dig it & want to expend further effort to get the better ones.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Lorena swam up to say...

Jeanette Winterson is my favorite author. I was lucky to meet her a couple months ago on her USA tour for her new novel "lighthousekeeping" which was wonderful!!! the first novel i read was "the passion" in college. i went on to read all of them. i love her writing style. my favorite, which you didn't mention was "Written on the Body," have you read that one?? It's a must :) Glad to find someone who loves her as I do. I wish I had someone like you who would shove a good book in my hands. great post!! it will encourage others to discover this great author :)

I had a post in regards to meeting her, nothing really interesting but it's on my other blog I maintain more frequently.

thanks for linking me, will do the same! (on blog i mention above)

1:28 PM  
Blogger jenn see swam up to say...

i have not yet read Written because i decided to save some for later. will probably pick it up at the same time as Lighthousekeeping which (for obvious reasons) keeps reminding me of Virginia Woolf's To the Lightouse. i wonder, are the two related?

8:24 PM  
Blogger Lorena swam up to say...

i tried reading "to the lighthouse" but she is too much for me. not an easy read but i own the book so i hope 1 day my patience will prevail.
i loved Lighthousekeeping! enjoy!

11:29 PM  
Blogger JP swam up to say...

Woolf's Orlando did it for me. The nearly-immortal gender-shifting protagonist is a real original. To The Lighthouse is a bit static, but a landmark.

4:25 AM  
Blogger banzai cat swam up to say...

Oy! Excellent, I always remembered someone recommending Winterson, especially "Sexing the Cherry", but I couldn't remember where I picked that up.

Thanks for the heads up on this one.

5:02 AM  

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