Saturday, January 08, 2005

50 Book Challenge #2: Sexing the Cherry

Jeanette Winterson is one of the most lyrical feminist writers I've read; her Written on the Body seized me with its masterful evocation of the substance of love affairs, need, and loss. The mystery of the narrator's gender also kept me reading.

But Sexing the Cherry does not live up to the promise of that work. The best parts of the novel deal with a Rabelaisian giantess in Charles II's England, who narrates from the perspective of an outsider who has never known sexual love. Her son, a foundling, narrates the remainder of the novel. He sails the seven seas and his own imagination, retells fairy tales and recounts his pursuit of a woman who doesn't exist (sometimes these are the same stories), and brings strange fruits back to England. Winterson's meditations on the nature of time might seem profound to someone who has not read other superior works treating that subject, but her final decision to locate the characters in a modern setting and to toss in some strident feminist and environmentalist arguments derails the fragile narrative and breaks the reader from the fairy tale spell wrought by the previous hundred pages.

If you wish to delve into Winterson's writing, I recommend Gut Symmetries or Written on the Body instead (she is best known for Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, but I've not read it and thus can't speak to its quality).
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