“Written on the Body” by Jeanette Winterson

There is a lot of beauty in this book. Every sentence is like a poem. You can feel the care and attention that went into every choice of word. For the first few pages, I was blown away and thought I had discovered a new favourite writer. But towards the end my enthusiasm faded. I felt like a diner who’s gorged on desserts and longs for some plain old bread and water to settle the stomach.

I’ve felt this before, where writing is very ornate. Arundhati Roy comes to mind. It seems wonderful at first, but then comes to feel like too much of a good thing. I think I like a certain amount of directness, and this type of book tends to meander and obscure. We never find out the narrator’s gender, name or anything much about him/her, for example. This is an interesting idea, and the uncertainty is quite refreshing in a way. But it also contributes to a sense of fakeness, that this is not the way you would really tell a story.

It’s even more unrealistic when the literaryness creeps into direct speech. For example when the main character says to another, shortly after returning from a long absence:

“Don’t you think it’s strange that life, described as so rich and full, a camel-trail of adventure, should shrink to this coin-sized world? A head on one side, a story on the other. Someone you loved and what happened. That’s all there is when you dig in your pockets. The most significant thing is someone else’s face. What else is embossed on your hands but her?”

Now, maybe I just don’t know very many interesting, eloquent people, but I’ve never met anyone who would talk like that.

Having said all that, I did appreciate much of the beautiful writing and the wonderful, detailed meditations on love and passion. It was a book that took me away into another world and I did appreciate the care with which language was used. Although I did tire of it a little, I still enjoyed it and would recommend it to others. And I would like to read more of Jeanette Winterson’s work. Recommendations, anyone?

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5 thoughts on ““Written on the Body” by Jeanette Winterson

  1. I read this book in college and fell in love with it, but I must agree that there can be too much of a good thing. This is a book I have to read in in little pieces, like a rich dessert. I haven’t read any of her other work, so I can’t give any recommendations.

  2. That’s a good idea, Michelle – dip into it in small pieces. I did enjoy it, after all, especially at first. Maybe the next one of hers I try, I’ll space it out a bit!

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  4. You were spot on, Andrew. I really loved the beginning but towards the middle was struggling with boredom. I don’t even remember finishing it. The prose was indeed lovely, but there didn’t seem to be enough substance to hold it down. That’s how I remembered it anyway. This turned me off from reading anything else by her, too. And funny because I should be someone who appreciates this type of writing. 😀

  5. Yes, Claire, I thought you would have liked this! Oh well. Glad I am not the only one – I struggled after reading this to understand why, when the writing was so beautiful, I didn’t enjoy it more.

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