by Jeanette Winterson
I read this book pretty much in one go, on a Sunday afternoon. I love (okay, I have a love/bitter disappointment relationship with) Winterson’s books, so it isn’t that surprising I read it at that pace. I couldn’t help it: I wanted to know what was going to happen, if she could pull off this story, if I’d believe it, if I believed she believed it, if I could love it.
In some ways, it isn’t the world’s easiest book to love. Even though the language is occasionally stabbingly beautiful, and some of the lines bring me back to my favorites — The Passion and Sexing the Cherry, it isn’t easy to love. I want so badly to fall in love with a Winterson book again; with each new book my secret hope is this will be the one. Turns out, this isn’t the one — but that isn’t a complaint.
It got under my skin and left me feeling unsettled.
I appreciate that. Winterson is obviously wrestling with big questions here: What does it mean to tell stories? What does it mean to be human? To not get it right? To worry we’ll never get it right? Are we doomed to never get it right? What is the place of art in the face of apocalypse? How much do you push to make your point? What are decisions you can live with? What’s the difference between programming and love?
So she doesn’t give us the entire fantasy of The Passion. The world wasn’t really ending then with Napoleon though, was it? The very end of Sexing the Cherry might have been a hint these fables were coming, though. That we’d twist science to perfect ourselves, failing to realize that setting age or size or skin really isn’t enough, and isn’t perfection. That we’d poison the planet and be unable to stop, unable to save ourselves, unable to change — probably because we can’t really agree on what it means to be human. The most human characters in this book aren’t like anyone else: one is faking it because she’s too real, and the other isn’t a human at all, but a spectacularly beautiful robo sapiens.
I didn’t fall in love with this book, but I liked it. There’s enough satire, enough bright shiny bits flashing unexpectedly near you like minnows you can never catch, that I not so much forgave but embraced the bombastic ambition along with the story. Winterson is a great artist — just ask her — and The Stone Gods is a ride worth taking for that reason alone. (Which means she’s really back: this is no Art & Lies.) You might fight with her, you might wince, you might get angry, but you won’t be bored. You’ll ask questions. So she’s done her job.
Recommended, particularly if you’re already a Winterson fan. If she’s new to you I’d start with The Passion or Sexing the Cherry, unless science fiction is really your thing, then you’d probably want to start here.