on September 19, 2006
Jeanette Wintersen has long been an adventurous writer, always willing to play with forms and conventions, and after reading a great number of them, WRITTEN ON THE BODY is still my favorite.
This is an exquisite novel - an independent-minded sensualist seduces a classically beautiful woman, a woman married to a rather stodgy medical researcher. As the two embark upon their affair, our narrator flashes back upon past exploits and misadventures, gradually conjuring a sort of personal metaphysics of passion along the way. We are not told the gender of our narrator, though a few stray clues (in either direction) do crop up on occasion.
In anyone else's hands this would be quite a gimmick, and it could have led to some miserable bog of overly tumescent verbiage (the kind I'm typing out at this very moment); but Wintersen is a master at handling language, and her technical skill and wit turn this into a most playful game of intrigues: no one enters, or gets entered, though a urinal does get blown up, and an ex named Bathsheba is occasionally reflected upon. Characters alternatively embody and discard the cliches and stereotypes of both genders, more or less at will.
Wintersen's delicate narrative, all shadow play, does gradually gather a certain force in spite of it's shimmery textures: I read this in one sitting, dazzled at many levels. Very highly recommended.
on March 2, 2001
So I will preface this review with the fact that I almost never read novels, and really never read romance. However, a friend handed me this book and I decided to give it a chance. I do love literature, and to me this never fealt like another cheap paperback romance, of which an author might write 5 a year. I felt this book to be a true piece of literature, and completely worthy as such. So for those of your out there like me, you might want to give this a try.
She creates complete atmospheres with word, and beautiful, sensual descriptions of her world both inside her mind, and outside of it. And my love for the European lifestyle only get me more excited about reading this. High Recomend, check it out.
on April 6, 2006
First I got captured by the poetic language. Then to my suprise I noticed I was regularly laughing out loud! This novel is delightful and compelling, although you may feel it becomes just a little long-winded from the moment when the narrator retreats.
I also want to add that I don't really understand why so many readers think it is impossible to find out the sex of the narrator. I thought the affair with Inge and the hilarious semtex attacks on the men's urinals were evidence enough for her being a woman... But I must admit the author definitely plays with preconceived ideas of gender. This, however, adds to the book's value and makes sure it remains in your mind for some time after putting it down.
For me this was a very good book that perhaps could have been brilliant. I'll definitely read more of Winterson's work.
on July 28, 2014
Had I been given the book without a title or the author's name, I would have guessed it was one of Winterson's. A song to LOVE. Genuine feelings beautifully expressed. At moments, poetic prose. After reading the Passion, I tried Written on the Body and will go on to her latest. Unmissable.
on June 19, 2001
This book can be summed up in one thought-provoking and heart-breaking line from its slim 190 pages: "Why is the measure of love loss?" That pretty much sums it up; the rest of the book leads up to and then answers that question in a way I would hate to describe in any other way than lyrical. In the process, the reader realizes that the gender of the narrator is inconsequential, only the love story matters. It's as if the best romance novel ever written somehow became literature. This is a book that will keep you asking questions about your own life and loves for a long time to come. It's one of those gems you won't read about very often, but anyone who's read it is sure to recommend it highly.
on September 15, 2013
Jeanette Winterson's "Written on the Body" is comprised of three distinct sections, each chronicling the relationships of a gender neutral lover (the sex is never identified) and her experiences with love and lust. The first section, arguably the strongest, details the narrator's dozens of relationships, with both men and women, in a head spinning yet thought provoking manner that never identifies whether the narrator is a man or a woman. The emphasis in on love and lust, and how, regardless of gender or sexuality, shares commonalities for all people. Politically and literally powerful, this section is.
The second section, not quite as powerful as the first, finds the narrator meeting his/her one true love and describing, in what could pass as poetry, his/her obsession with each body part of the beloved. This middle section is highly stylized and reads like a series of poems that, unlike the first two chapters, is directly connected to and inspired by the book's title.
The final section, which manages to rob the book of its sheer joy through the horrors of disease, finds the narrator confronting illness in the beloved. Again, the focus is on the body and physicality of the loved one, yet this time, the writing is tinged with sadness and despair.
While the experimental nature of the book is to be commended, their is inconsistency between the three sections. Nonetheless, it is a worthy read and another excellent addition to the Winterson Literary Collection.
on February 25, 1998
I find the polarity of the reviews on this sight intriguing; I would like to add a word or two for some kind of middle ground, leaning toward the positive. While, no, this is not the most incredibly amazing book I EVER read, it is one of the most interesting things I've read published after, oh, I don't know, 1970? Winterson takes chances in this book, something which too few authors do these days; yes, this novel resorts to a gimmick on only a slightly higher level than that employed in The Crying Game, nevertheless, there is a haunting depth to the exploration of a very real problem: what do you DO when you find the "ONE" and then discover suddenly that that person is going to die a lot sooner than you expected? I think many critics miss the real focus of the novel: it's not so much about sexuality, it's about facing mortality. The real flaw in the novel is not her non-gender-specific narrator (which I found fascinating as a device, even if "my" narrator changed in my head from a woman to a man from first sitting with the book to the second (about a month or two apart)), but the rather lengthy exploration of biology and the painstaking connections with the loved one. It is heaviness at a moment when there needs to be a pause for air, an emptiness, a silence. When she finally comes out of this section, and leads to her conclusion, she arrives at the heart of an emptional suffering more than amply justified. This is not Hollywood: this is a person who has found and given up what may have been the best thing that has ever happened in this person's life. As a result this person returns to an earlier pattern of behavior, that may be common enough in reality to become the subject of more than one bad Hollywood movie: taking yet another lover so as not to be alone. And if the ending leaves the reader with a coldness, then the novel has succeeded, for the emotional state it is striving to realize in its narrator is ultimately one of coldness: the coldness of despair.
on October 25, 1997
Despite Winterson's neat prose and fluid style, Written on the Body cannot achieve what it ultimately wants. It begins with a bang, but is followed by a whisper (The Waste Land comes to mind). The first twenty to thirty pages are lucid and clever, a play on fiction itself and a brilliant tossing around of Caliban and the narrator in a kind of dream-meta-fiction. That this is followed by a horrid sentimentalism is somewhat shocking. Winterson's seeming point (to write a love made not by cliches but stripped bare to the core) is undercut by her reinscribing of all the cliches on a more lusty level. For a love story, its simply cliches in a langage etrange, rather than an eradication. The end is complete misery and perhaps begs Hollywood adaptation. However, my main point of objection stems from Winterson's strong anti-Semitism, marked clearly in the "body" of Elgin. This problem, previously discussed in The New Republic, seems completely glossed over by the other reviewers here, but I think it important to note. Winterson, in incorporating this element, clearly places herself in the personal-political tradition of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. But unlike those revered writers (in their early days) she cannot shake off the past 50 years, the Holocaust or such events. Her incorporation of these beliefs amidst her otherwise "free" work (the bisexuality of the narrator, for instance) is frightening.
This is quaint reading, and lovers convinced they have found true love may find it a nice ideal to try to recreate. Unfortunately, this is not Winterson at her best and it does not deserve the gross seriousness with which the rest of us seem to take it.
Jeanette Winterson's novels read like an epic poem. The beautiful prose and poetic undertones mean that reading between the lines is called for. I loved The Passion and The Powerbook, and now I adore Written on the Body.
In Written, Winterson chronicles the sexual escapades between the unidentified narrator and a complex married woman. The protagonist's ambiguous gender is disturbing and thought provoking. Is Winterson trying to convey a message by doing this? Is the narrator's gender academic in the story? Is having the reader, whether male or female, relate to the story important to the author? Again, reading between the lines is rather important.
I love novels that are thought provoking and literary. Winterson hasn't let me down. I duly recommend this beautiful novel.
on January 2, 2003
I admit that for the first third or so of this novel I was not particularly enamoured with the storyline. The "novelty" of not knowing the gender of the narrator never really did it for me, (perhaps as I had convinced myself of the sex of the narrator fairly early on). But as the story progressed I became more and more involved, not so much with any of the secondary characters including our narrator's love interest, but with the narrator him/herself. The depth and pain associated with their love was palpable and very real. I'm not quite sure whether I actually enjoyed this book, but I'm still thinking about it, and that in and of itself says something.