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Jeanette Winterson’s Written On The Body, A Review of Sorts

Dear Ms. Jeanette Winterson, (for I know not whether to address you “O magnificent writer/ poet of romantic lesbian tales” or The Great Deceiver),

Cover of Written On The Body by Jeanette Winterson

Click Here for Your Copy of Written on the Body
Spoiler alert: Do not read the reviews on Amazon. You will enjoy it more reading it fresh.

You tricked me.  You played with my emotions.  You led me down a garden path of supreme romance.

And then you threw a bowling ball in my gut.  It hurt.

I hope you enjoyed yourself.

Lavender Poet

If I ever should meet my idol, she would no doubt knock me out with a bottle of scotch.  And I would probably deserve it.

But you shouldn’t have done it, Jeanette!

Okay.  I’m over it.

Once in a while there comes a writer who is by nature a poet.  Her every sentence, her every word is fashioned from angel dust.  Such a writer is Jeanette Winterson.  That she is also a lesbian is a bonus for the Sisterhood.

Who else could devote nearly 20 pages to describing the human body — any body — and make it sound erotic?  Who else could write about the cells, the lining of the mouth, the cavities of the body, the dermis and epidermis, the collar bone, and all the other parts of a human, and simply make it so blasted erotic?  It is enough to make me want to attack the next woman I see.  Passages such as this one:


My lover is an olive tree whose roots grow by the sea.  Her fruit is pungent and green.  It is my joy to get at the stone of her.  The little stone of her hard by the tongue.  Her thick-fleshed salt-veined swaddle stone.

Who eats an olive without first puncturing the swaddle?  The waited moment when the teeth shoot a strong burst of clear juice that has in it the weight of the land, the vicissitudes of the weather, even the first name of the olive keeper …

Virtually every reviewer of “Written On The Body” makes a Big Deal out of the fact that Winterson does not specifically state whether her protagonist is male or female.   But that is not the point.  Who truly cares whether it is a he or a she?  I didn’t.  What I did care about was the genuinely overpowering emotion it evoked in me, so powerful that I had to stop for “sanity breaks” from time to time.

If I could be anyone in the world, I think I might be Jeanette Winterson.  So I was thrilled when I saw an interview with her that firmly established that we are indeed sisters.  For example,

  • We both wear reading glasses.  (I know, so do a lot of people, but this is different.)
  • We both write orally.  True.  Jeannette and I both talk out loud when we write.  Winterson describes writing as “lovers’ talk”, and I agree.  (Sadly, that is the end of the similarity in our writing.)
  • We both drowned ourselves in Huck Finn, Aladdin and all the other wonderful books of childhood.

Do gift yourself a bit of time to see the whole interview.  You will come away loving Jeanette Winterson as much as I do:

There is one issue I have with “Written On The Body” (besides the bowling ball episode noted above).  The ending.  On the one hand, it wasn’t the ending I wanted.  On the other hand, Life doesn’t always give us the ending we want, so maybe I shouldn’t complain.

If you have not yet discovered that sublime lesbian poet, Jeanette Winterson, do so now.  Read “Written On The Body”.  You will thank me for cajoling you into doing it.

Outstanding Reviews of Winterson’s Other Works

There are so many that it is hard to know here to begin, but let’s begin with “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?”, her autobiographical work that pierced the hearts of lesbian lovers around the globe.  Maria Popova on Brain Pickings presents a very fine review of that book.  This is one of those extraordinary books that is nearly impossible to critique or summarize, for each word is essential to the whole.

“The Daylight Gate” is a whole different creature.  I have been avoiding doing a review of it because frankly there is just too much violence for my preference.  But the book indeed has literary merit, and for those who enjoy the genre, is quite outstanding.  Kaya Genc provides an excellent review of “The Daylight Gate” in the Rumpus Room.  And this interview gives interesting insights into DayLight Gate and other “gates” of life.

Do you have a favorite Jeanette Winterson?  Please jot a note below and tell us a bit about it.

6 Responses to Jeanette Winterson’s Written On The Body, A Review of Sorts

  1. MaryAnn July 21, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

    For those who would like to hear more from Ms. Winterson about poetry and art and life, here is a delightful collection of her audio comments: http://www.jeanettewinterson.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=6078&p=15979

  2. MaryAnn August 11, 2014 at 9:13 pm #

    Jeanette Winterson once attempted suicide, which is not surprising since she carries such emotional depth with her. For a brilliant description of her feelings at that point in life, see http://byronbaywritersfestival.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/jeanette-winterson-and-susie-orbach/ . There is also a picture with her and her partner Susan (also her full time therapist, as Susan says — lol).

  3. Suzy August 13, 2014 at 3:47 am #

    I have just heard the most splendid interview of Jeanette. She talks about Daylight Gate, Why Be Happy and others. http://omnyapp.com/shows/books-podcast/jeanette-winterson-im-telling-you-stories-trust-me

    • LavenderPoet August 13, 2014 at 3:56 am #

      Thank you for that tip, Suzy! I just listened and was equally enchanted. It is fascinating to hear about both her creative process and her personal journey. I have no doubt that thousands of adopted children relate strongly to her experience in tracking down her birth mother. And her fascination with language … ah, no surprises there!

  4. Janelle October 10, 2014 at 4:20 am #

    The super model Edie Campbell felt the same way about Winterson’s “The Passion”.

    “My Favorite Book:The Passion by Jeanette Winterson. “It’s incredibly moving, surreal and beautiful; the kind of novel you have to ration, only allowing yourself two pages per day.”

    I might do a bit more than two pages a day, but I sure see what she means! It’s hard to explain how powerful her writing is.

  5. Toni October 24, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

    In Brain Pickings (http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/07/21/jeanette-winterson-elinor-wachtel-interview/ ) there is a magnificent interview with Jeanette, talking about art and love. Here is one small excerpt:

    “I have to believe that in the end what is good, what is honorable, what is exceptional about human beings will triumph over what is simply small and mean and devious. If I didn’t believe that, I might as well slit my own throat now and certainly stop work, because writers have to believe that their words will carry on speaking to people and that there is a people worth speaking to.” [end of quote]

    “…(T)hat there is a people worth speaking to”. Yes, that is what our society should strive to be. I am not certain we’ve made it yet.

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