No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Saturday, April 30, 2005

#34: The Powerbook -- Jeanette Winterson

I haven't quite made up my mind about this book yet: not sure whether it's deeply profound or somewhat hollow.

It's about love and passion, writing, identity, history: about pretence and assumption, about control over one's own story and stories, about story-telling. Winterson's writing is gorgeous, spare and wry and rich. The Powerbook is a quick read -- some of the chapters are less than a page long, and it's been padded with chapter-heading pages, and still only around 230 pages.

The lead-in, the hook, is that the narrator (Ali or Alix) will write you into a story: you'll enter as yourself but may leave as someone else. That might've ended up being pretentious, but the conceit is not rammed home -- just left for the reader to recall. At the heart of the book are two stories: one a romance between the narrator and a married woman (I seem to recall discussion, when this was published, about whether it was autobiographical), and one about the narrator's own self-construction. "You can change the story. You are the story." But threaded through are meditations on history -- Capri, London, Paris -- and tales that at first seem separate from the narrative. (I was especially taken with Ali, the ingenious 17th-century tulip smuggler.)

The novel felt slightly dated: plenty of refs to time, to the millennium, to the balance of history and the future. But it's a glorious read, and I'm looking forward to reading it again, cover to cover, and focussing on the language and the technique.

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

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