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Written on the Body Paperback – February 1, 1994

4.2 out of 5 stars 142 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This fourth effort from British writer Winterson ( Sexing the Cherry ) is a high-concept erotic novelette, a Vox for the postmarital crowd. The narrator, a lifelong philanderer ("I used to think marriage was a plate-glass window just begging for a brick"), has fallen in love with Louise, a pre-Raphaelite beauty. Louise is unhappily married to a workaholic cancer researcher, so the narrator leads her into a sexually combative affair. This scenario seems obvious enough, but Winterson never reveals whether the narrator is male or female. Rather, she teases readers out of their expectations about women and men and romance: Louise calls the narrator "the most beautiful creature male or female that I have ever seen," and the narrator observes, "I thought difference was rated to be the largest part of sexual attraction but there are so many things about us that are the same." When the narrator breaks off the affair after learning that Louise has cancer--only her husband can cure her--the work turns into a eulogy for lost love. Winterson manipulates gender expertly here, but her real achievement is her manipulation of genre : the capacious first-person narration, now addressed to the reader, now to the lover, enfolds aphorisms, meditations on extracts from an anatomy textbook, and essayistic riffs on science, virtual reality and the art of fiction ("I don't want to reproduce, I want to create something entirely new"). "It's as if Louise never existed," the narrator observes, "like a character in a book. Did I invent her?" One wonders, as Winterson intends, and then wonders some more. For Louise--and the narrator's love for her--never seems quite real; in this cold-hearted novel love itself, however eloquently expressed, is finally nothing more than a product of the imagination.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Like Andre Breton's dizzying poem, "Ma Femme a la chevelure de feu de bois" ("my woman with her belly like the unfolding fan of days/... My woman with her swan's back buttocks"), the narrator of Winterson's ( Sexing the Cherry , LJ 2/15/90) new novel relentlessly celebrates the beauty of a beloved woman's body--but the trick here is that we do not know whether the narrator is a man or a woman. The story is minimal and not altogether original: a corrusive sensualist experiences many women but finally becomes obsessed with one, stealing her from her husband, only to discover that she has been guarding a terrible secret: she is threatened by a terminal illness. The fascination is the lush, plush language and the way two aspects of the physical--passion and bodily decay--are delicately interwoven. Not to everyone's taste, but serious readers and sensualists will enjoy. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/92.
- Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679744479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679744474
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (142 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is an extraordinary narrative that focuses on the pleasure and the pain associated with being in love. An individual who has no name, no gender and no age tells the story to us. We as readers can easily relate to the narrator's feelings despite the fact that there is nothing distinctive or tangible about the narrator for us to relate to. The fact is the narrator is swimming in a sea of beautiful emotions where I'm sure many of us would love to drown. We hear about the narrator's intense relationship with Louise, a beautiful woman with flaming red hair who is married to a stodgy, fuddy-duddy named Elgin. The writing is so descriptive and captivating, one can really understand how it must feel to love someone with every last ounce of their existence. Jeanette Winterson takes us to a sensual place where many of us have visited at one time or another or would love to visit again. With beautifully descriptive and insightful writing, wry wit and splashes of comedy, "Written on the Body" is a book you'll want to read over and over again! Highly recommended!
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Format: Paperback
Assigned this book in a Recent British Literature course, I can't tell you how disappointed I was that I had to wait all the way until the *end* of the semester to read it. I was so eager, I had to finally learn patience just to wait three weeks before we discussed it.
This has to be one of (I should say *the*) best books I have ever read. I suggest it to everyone. For its writing, its content, its beauty, its magic. To use the art of a genderless narrator is absolutely divine and original. I can't think of any other piece of literature that has even tried to break from the stereotypes of love, of gender.
Instead of getting the stereotypes, we really get to experience *LOVE* for what it truly is: an intense emotion. Rather than worrying if the boy is going to "stand up" the girl, or the girl is going to be late, Winterson analyzes love by tissue. By the body. By the spirit.
So many books have tried to tell love stories, whether it be a Disney Cinderella, or a Dickens Pip and Estella. But they have not succeeded completely, impeded, stopped by the normal beliefs of everyday society.
Rather than boring the life out of anyone that reads this review, I'll stop at this, the first line of the book:
"Why is the measure of love loss?"
Tell me, do you know? Either way, you should read this book and truly experience love in a way you never thought possible: with purity.
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Format: Paperback
This is one of the most powerful and magnificent love stories I have ever read.  Winterson, a young British writer, has crafted a tale in which her narrator is genderless and the lover is a married woman.  Impossible you say?  It says on the back cover, "The narrator...has neither name, nor gender; the beloved is a married woman...as Winterson chronicles their consuming affair, she compels us to see love stripped of cliches and categories, as a phenomenon as visceral as blood and organs, bone and tissue..."  What makes the novel such a powerful love story is just that.  Love without the "cliches", the boundaries set by the culture and the society.  The bigger question that is raised by this book is one of the writing 'voice'.  Can a woman successfully write in a man's voice?  Or a man in a woman's?  Charles Dickens was once derided by a friend for having written "Bleak House" in a woman's voice.   Because my sister (an English teacher at U. Mass, Amherst) teaches a class on Men and Women in Literature, she asked me to read this with an eye for any written clues that might identify the narrator's gender.   Winterson is so clever and such a brilliant writer that there were both many and none!  The reader is left not so much with the beauty of the love story or the lyrical prose, but rather with the question of literary voices.  A fascinating book
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Format: Paperback
"Cheating is easy. There's no swank to infidelity. To borrow against the trust someone has placed in you costs nothing at first. You get away with it, you take a little more and a little more until there is no more to draw on. Oddly, your hands should be full with all that taking but when you open them there is nothing there."

So says Winterson's Narrator at one point in the story about his/her transgressions when it comes to his/her married lovers. This is an attitude that is not carried into completion in the book, as it later becomes very obvious that infidelity is infinitely difficult...when you find the right woman.

But I jump aside of myself, let me start from the beginning, and talk about Winterson's Hero/heroine.

The Narrator in the story is a nameless, genderless character, but when it comes to emotional morality this character knows exactly what is right vs. what is wrong. However, that does not stop him/her from being unethical, and having few qualms about it. This is proven in the way he/she continues to become entangled in these attractions and relationships with involved or married people. Whether this is something the narrator is aware of is uncertain, but it makes for a wonderful foundation to this tremendous story of love and loss.

After numerous failed relationships the narrator becomes involved with a married woman named Louise. Louise is a stunning Titian beauty married to a man who is, quite literally, married to his work. He needs her for little, as he gets most of his sexual gratification elsewhere, so when she decides to become involved with the Narrator it is of little surprise that she informs her husband of this.
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