This new book navigates the seas of fiction and love. As a piece of internet prose, it easily surpasses Matt Beaumont's entertainment 'E'. Jeanette Winterson explores the opportunities offered by the net, the wardrobe door that leads to many a magical land. The heroine of this novel flits here and there, choosing exotic locations as she pleases. However, much of this book is also based in the real as much in the imaginary.
There's an ongoing plot in 'The Powerbook', a very modern love affair. It's the beauty of the prose that is really outstanding though. Winterson goes to Capri and uses the funicular railway as a metaphor in a manner that seems entirely natural, unforced, but prone to gravity. For me, there was a certain amount of nostalgia, as Winterson explores the settings of my own adolescent vacations, from the Isle of Capri near Sorrento, the romantic flirtation with Paris, the exhilarating adventure of seedy London. 'The Powerbook' lives up to its ambition of being an internet novel, since we can all attempt the Grand Tour via the Net nowadays. It's always a delight to follow in an author's footsteps, see the world through their eyes. For instance, you can find the painting of his wife Saskia as Flora on the net by Rembrandt. At first sight, this picture seems too dark to be the image that Winterson describes, but it's a delight to look at the picture again through her prose.
There's a section here where Winterson seems to return to the 'real life' of 'Oranges are not the Only Fruit', and it's very compelling to find a horror of nothing, the fear of having to invent, the burden of having to create. It does seem, though, that Winterson has been following current literary trends, borrowing and embellishing what she fancies. The Tulip trade is very much in fashion now, and Winterson has a faction devoted to George Mallory. Yet there are also much older, traditional tales. Lancelot and Guinevere, and Paolo and Francesca reading of their love, doomed to a much more bloody fate in the pages of Dante's Inferno. I had never come across the tale of Paolo and Francesca before, but it thrills me to find that it had been the subject of a variety of paintings, including one by the Pre-Raphaelite 'Dante' Rossetti.
This isn't a very weighty book in terms of page count. You'll find that you'll be able to finish off 'The Powerbook' in one sitting. Some might find the book a little costly in hardcover format. There is very little drama. Instead, there are some quite modern truths and observations. Winterson discusses the fact that nobody really seems to be content now, and that they always want more. That nobody wants to settle. Just waiting for the next opportunity, the next love affair. A society where everyone wants love, but wants to be left alone. So, this book is perfect for of a generation of short attention spans. Yet, if used in the right way, 'The Powerbook' can stimulate you a great deal; make you highly active as you seek out its subtle meanings, to compose your own story as you weave a path through the web, following the footsteps of Ali and Sebastian Melmoth. Maybe the Reformation and the Tulip trade brought the immortal Arabian Nights to us? Winterson also covers the theoretical debate of author/reader - which of these two really creates the fiction? Winterson comes down on the right side, and reveals fiction in its true light, as a dialogue between author and reader (literally). She conveys how some fictions will never die; will be forever revived by future artists. This poetic novel deserves to be kept on the bookshelf, and referred to whenever your heart desires.