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

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

#68: Boating for Beginners -- Jeanette Winterson

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young the very heaven. Ur of the Chaldees looked less and less like an inhabited spittoon and more and more like Milton Keynes as the hours ticked by. Neighbours made friendly gestures and lent one another their lawnmowers, the dustbin men volunteered to return to work without their extra ten per cent, and the Socialist Worker Party Magazine painted their offices. It's extraordinary what Art can do. (p. 22)


The tale of Noah, his Ark and his God as you've never seen it before ... The Book of Genesis is translated to a modern(ish) setting, the Unnameable to a blasphemous joke and Noah himself to a entertainment entrepreneur with designs on famous romantic novelist Bunny Mix, noted for her improbable maquillage and her insistence on No Sex Before Marriage.

But the heroine is Gloria Munde, who has read just enough Northrop Frye (she was too naïve to understand that when a serious work is issued in paperback the publishers always use a misleading cover (p. 44)) to be dangerous and wants to start thinking in paragraphs, in joined up sentences, in metaphors.

they could play Charades, but not I Spy because it would have to begin with W after a while and everyone would guess the answer. (p. 136)

I confess Boating for Beginners made me laugh out loud: there's a great deal of arch, wry humour in here, though at times it's hard not to be caught between amusement and repulsion at the tawdry Seventies suburban feel of it all. There is a serious dimension to the satire, though: Winterson on the joy of non-linear texts, the stages of being and the almost-mythic powers of those who don't distinguish between themselves and the world; whether or not one should write books that '[fix] themselves into time, or books which [flout] the usual notion of time' (p. 100); an orange demon that pops out of nowhere to teach Gloria to be poetic as well as analytic ...

In further proof that Boating for Beginners doesn't take itself too seriously, it gets extra points for featuring, on the back cover, reviews that are ... differently good. "I could have done with a bit more of this" [Winterson 'seriously explaining the power of myth'] "and less jokes about fast food..." quoth Time Out: "If you find the Monty Python Life of Brian amusing, this is your comic book of revelations," The Times praised with faint damns.

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