Friday, April 9, 2010

Book Review: Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson

Written on the Body, by Jeanette WintersonWritten on the Body isn't the sort of book I would normally read. As a Christian I don't read a lot of explicit fiction (though I do occasionally read a romance novel or two!) and I try to avoid books that have a "gimmick," particularly if the "gimmick" doesn't appeal to me. This book fits into the "explicit" and "gimmicky" category.

The narrator of Written on the Body is genderless (though most readers are aware of an underlying femininity to the character). My understanding is that this is meant to make the reader think about the way that we define gender roles. The problem for me was that the narrator didn't come across to me as being "of ambiguous gender" but as being "androgynous" (or not having an assigned gender at all).

I like gender roles. In fact, I have written off and on about the importance of gender roles in society and in our relationships with one another. I strive constantly to achieve deeper femininity and am the antithesis of a feminist.

Where I try to be soft and curvy, this book is all angles and skinny elbows, jutting against everything that I believe in and stand for. From the early pages of this short book when the narrator and one of his/her girlfriends blow up a public toilet as an act of militant feminism; to the point when the narrator begins to describe The Lover's body, including the internal organs and absolutely horrifying odors from the genital region, this book disgusted me.

There isn't much of a story here, only the obsessive love that the narrator shows to his/her married Lover, Louise, followed by the consequences of that love. It was difficult to follow and the language was overly flowery and prosaic. The poetry was unnecessary and detracted from the story as though it was meant to be a replacement for an actual story line.

I tried hard to enjoy this book, since it was recommended to me by my best friend. Initially I gave it two stars in an effort to give some credit to both Winterson and the friend who recommended the book, but in the end the truth is that I couldn't read the book straight through and put it down for several months before finally finishing it.

I am in the deep minority in my distaste of this book, but it is also not the kind of book that I would have voluntarily picked up on my own. I can sympathize with the book club members who also did not enjoy this book, and I wonder if some of the difference is in the liberal vs. conservative or secular vs. Christian.

Written on the Body is widely believed to be Winterson's best: a triumph. If this is the best of her books, I won't be reading another one of them in the future.

You can get your copy of Written on the Body on Amazon.

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