How to start a review of Jeanette Winterson and her writing. Not an easy task. If you have read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
, her autobiographical novel about her childhood and early adulthood, then you know that she is a fiery independent woman, who, incidentally, is also a lesbian. She wrote it as fiction in her twenties. Now in her fifties, she revisits that time of her life. The term brutal honesty keeps popping up, but she is not brutal. There is a profound tenderness for herself and for those in her life. What she shows us is the hard scrabble life in working class Northern England of the seventies. (Her observations on the effects of Thatcher's policies are sharp-edged.) Looking back after thirty, forty years, she seems to have found some forgiveness for the woman apparently incapable of love who adopted her.
Winterson does not write "womb to tomb" as she puts it. She circles the object of her study, her book. And we realize that this object is her heart, so tough that love is not allowed in. She pokes here and there, probing her memories, reliving brief insightful moments of her childhood. She reports to us how she could not love anyone, or even befriend a classmate, despite desperately needing someone in her young life.
And then, being Jeanette Winterson, she takes us to the present time and her search for her birth mother, which is mainly a struggle to get though the bureaucratic procedures set up to thwart adoptees from locating their birth parents.
The book ends with limited resolution, with Jeanette's heart finally opening. It is the most tender-hearted inconclusive ending I have read, probably ever. She stands with her heart exposed, bruised, torn, but beating strong.
I love this woman's writing. I do not always like her books, but this one is truly magnificent.