Written on the Body (Jeanette Winterson)

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Written on the Body (Jeanette Winterson)

Post by akiwiguy on Sat Mar 07, 2009 1:38 pm

Written on the Body is perhaps the book that I have plucked from my bookshelf more than any other for a browse, sometimes flicking through pages reading a paragraph here, a paragraph there. Sometimes a whole re-read. If I had a reason for recommending it, it is not necessarily that I think everyone would love the story. Rather Jeanette Winterson strikes me as one of those authors that I think is worth a visit by every writer simply to see clever, rich, expansive use of language. I don't mean of course that that summarises the book, rather that is the reason I might include her in a short list of "should reads" for writers. But just my opinion.

This is the author’s own summary of the book (incidentally, an interesting feature of this story is the androgynous nature of the narrator, the lover. We are never sure whether it is a male or a female.) –

It's a simple story; love found, love lost, love found again - maybe. The unnamed narrator falls for a married woman called Louise. Louise leaves her husband but when she finds she has cancer, she leaves her new lover too. Written on the Body is a journey of self-discovery made through the metaphors of desire and disease.

All of my books are about boundaries and desire - the boundaries we should try to cross, like fear and class and skin-colour and expectation, and the boundaries that seem to define us, such as our sense of self, our gender. Disease, especially a disease like cancer or aids, breaks down the boundaries of the immune system and forces a new self on us that we often don't recognise. Our territory is eaten away. We are parcelled out into healthy areas and metastasised areas. Parts of us are still whole, too much has been invaded.

Against this, I wanted to look again, (I am always looking again) at love's ability to shatter and heal simultaneously. Loving someone else destroys our ideas of who we are and what we want. Priorities change, friends change, houses change, we change. Part of the strangeness of being human is our need of boundaries, parameters, definitions, explanations, and our need for them to be overturned. For most people, only the positives of love and faith (and a child is both), or the negatives of disaster and disease, achieve this. Death comes too late. The final shattering affects others, but not ourselves.


She has an ability to skip quickly from the ludicrous, to the acerbically witty, to the sensitive, to the profound in the space of sentences, but always in language that is rich, powerful, interesting.

A few quotes from the book -

Articulacy of fingers, the language of the deaf and dumb, signing on the body body longing. Who taught you to write in blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons? You have scored your name into my shoulders, referenced me with your mark. The pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap a message onto my skin, tap meaning into my body. Your morse code interferes with my heart beat. I had a steady heart before I met you, I relied on it, it had seen active service and grown strong. Now you alter its pace with your own rhythm, you play upon me, drumming me taut.

Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights: the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like Braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes, never unfold too much, or tell the whole story. I didn't know that Louise would have reading hands. She has translated me into her own book.
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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, 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’s nothing there.
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We lay down on my floor, our backs to the day. I needed no more light than was in her touch, her fingers brushing my skin, bringing up the nerve ends. Eyes closed, I began a journey down her spine, the cobbled road fo hers that brought me to a cleft and a damp valley then a deep pit to drown in. What other places are there in the world than those discovered on a lover’s body?


A few quotes from Winterson herself –

However it is debased or misinterpreted, love is a redemptive feature. To focus on one individual so that their desires become superior to yours is a very cleansing experience.

I am not interested in genres. I am interested in doing the best work I can in whatever medium.

I hate the word lesbian; it tells you nothing; its only purpose is to inflame.

I think heterosexuality and homosexuality are a kind of psychosis, and the truth is somewhere in the middle.

I am a writer who happens to love women. I am not a lesbian who happens to write.

In my subconscious, my books were part of a single emotional journey.

Ordinary professionalism and 20 years' experience can accomplish a lot, but it can't access the hidden places.

Whatever is powerful to you can be translated into something which will matter to somebody that you will never know.

Your weak point is the open, vulnerable place where you can always be hurt. Love, in all its aspects, opens the self so fully.

Quest is at the heart of what I do-the holy grail, and the terror that you'll never find it, seemed a perfect metaphor for life.

You play. You win. You play. You lose. You play.

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Re: Written on the Body (Jeanette Winterson)

Post by JustaMan on Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:02 pm

I understood the exerpts better after I read her own comments, that it is written from life, maybe not her own, but the life she knows from her own perspective. My guess.

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