Friday, July 11, 2008

50 Book Challenge #12: Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson

This book is also hard to describe. From the back of the book, we learn that the narrator has "neither name nor gender." Thanks a lot, Vintage International, for making me conscious of gender constructions and not letting me figure out on my own which gender I ascribed to the narrator. It made me too conscious of the project, and thus, a little gimmicky. Better to have the reader pause, mid-novel, and realize "hey, I don't know if this is a woman or a man, and their bisexuality adds further complexity to the discussion of gender and sexuality." Anyway, yes, the narrator is ambiguous. We learn that the beloved is a married woman. They have an all-consuming affair.

The prose is deliciously, sickeningly visceral: love is skin and sinew and teeth and hair, all different textures and tastes. It is erotic and sexy, but so emotionally raw that one cannot call it tawdry. It is also incredibly intelligent and original and well-written. From this, we learn what it means to have a self-immolating kind of love, and that giving up on someone "for their own good" is an act of hate as much as it is an act of love. You cannot make that choice for someone, not even to save their life. You only think that you are saving them, but really, are you saving yourself from the all consuming love? Only to find that once abandoned, that love still consumes you in their absence. The narrator lets the beloved go, and it is a daily agony and s/he is always waiting in the face of diminishing hope that the beloved will return. Read the book to find out if she does.

Recommended.

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