Jeanette Winterson's novel Arts & Lies
begins with three people seated opposite each other on a train as it winds out of a city, making its way past cemeteries and houses towards the sea. Handel, a Catholic doctor, clutches a book, worrying at the edges of his medical mistakes. Picasso, a young woman with a consuming desire to paint, runs from abuse by her brother, with his "bull's balls and Lucifer rod". Sappho, seducer of women, carries her whirling words of poetry quietly at her side. Art & Lies
intimately unravels the stories of these three. Although strangers, their memories touch and dance, circling a handful of events in which they have met (unbeknown to them) as the carriages of the train flit in and out of the sunlight.
At times the writing is impenetrable--there are paragraphs of French, Latin and German, a section of a Strauss opera and an impossibly demanding twist on language that feels mannered and fragmented. Often though, there is a lyrical intensity, a poetic eroticism to reward the struggle. There is also a light-heartedness; Winterson's particular, peculiar sense of fun, seen at its best in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and Sexing the Cherry asserts itself here in the raunchy narrative of Isaac Newton's prostitute that leaps up from the pages of Handel's book. Art & Lies is one of Winterson's most ruthless experimentations with literary form that shows her at her exuberant best and worst. --Jane Honey
"If we want language to be handled with vitality and suppleness, if we want to consider serious questions of philosophy, art and sexuality, if we want writers to aspire to beauty, then we should be glad of Jeanette Winterson...she is a writer who will continue to astonish, to please and to vex. Art & Lies
does all these things" (Literary Review
"Brave and ambitious" (Independent