Written on The Body
is a tender dissection of erotic love. The prose is like a poem, lush with wit and imagery, but behind the luxuriant relish of the words, there is a scalpel-sharp cut of emotions. Love and longing are the wounds through which Winterson's imagery flows. The novel begins with regret: "Why is the measure of love loss? It hasn't rained in three months ... The grapes have withered on the vine." The narrator is also suffering from a heart-stricken drought. She is grieving for the loss of her true love, Louise.
Louise has flowing Pre-Raphaelite hair, and a body besieged by leukaemia, her cells waging war: "here they come, hurtling through the bloodstream trying to pick a fight." But Louise is not dead, merely abandoned by the narrator with the best of intentions. As the lament continues, striking in its beauty and dazzling inventiveness, more of the love story is revealed. The narrator has been a female Lothario, falling in love, and out again, swaggering like Mercutio. But then she meets Louise, married to Elgin--"very eminent, very dull, very rich"--and is hopelessly, helplessly smitten: "I didn't only want Louise's flesh, I wanted her bones, her blood, her tissues, the sinews that bound her together." Elgin persuades her to leave for the good of Louise's health, and all is undone.
Winterson does not shy away from grief, or joy. She has acutely described how love can transform a life, but also destroy it too. But, for Winterson, where there is love there is hope: "I stretch out my hand and reach the corners of the world ... I don't know if this is a happy ending but here we are let loose in open fields." Eithne Farry
"Winterson's novels are about exploding our complacent notions of the real, breaking down received ideas of gender, time and space... John Donne wrote, "Love...makes one little room, as everywhere." Winterson's novel arrives at a similar affirmation" (Time Out
"An ambitious work, at once a love story and a philosophical meditation on the body...the result is a work that is consistently revelatory about the phenomenon of love" (New York Times Book Review
"This book is a deep sensual plunge, a worship of the body, inside and out" (Guardian