on 13 April 2008
I must admit never having read Jeanette Winterson before, not being a fan of chick lit.
The version I have is an Audio book. While I understand that a reader can make a mediocre book sound excitng and interesting I feel that this is not the case here. I think the book can stand alone as a lovely tale within many tales, tales with no end like the never ending waves of the sea the tales lap at the edges of the imagination with graceful ease.
Take this book to the seaside, in winter, cuddle into your blanket with a hot chocolate, a glass of wine, ( or sated lover) and read these tales in a soft aloud.
on 9 May 2004
Let me preface this by saying I have, up until The PowerBook, been a huge Winterson fan. As such, my review follows:
Jeanette Winterson has called her previous seven novels a complete ‘novelistic cycle’. So, in coming to her latest novel Lighthousekeeping, a reader would expect to see something fresh and new, something that deviates from the paradigmatic tropes and themes of her last novels. Instead, what we are greeted by is a revisitation of hackneyed themes and recycled phrases (along with the re-telling of the myth of Tristan and Isolde, straight from her last novel The PowerBook) although, to her credit, the form is considerably different.
The narrative form here is more coherent and chronological, despite constant references to the past and the typical Wintersonian theme of non-linear time. We are introduced to our narrator, yet another orphan, this time called Silver. Much of the novel revolves around the stories told her (and which she herself then later tells) by Pew, a blind Tiresias figure who mans the Cape Wrath lighthouse. In fact, the contrast between dark and light is an ever-present theme in Lighthousekeeping: while Silver — herself a symbol of torch-bearing and the upholding of the tradition of storytelling — is associated with a potential light which her metallic name suggests, the blind seer figure in the novel is able to exist in a world of his own making, a world in which the stories exist or half-exist with no time to weigh them down.
The constant references to storytelling bring to mind Winterson’s brilliant novel The Passion, in which the conceit of narrative becomes one of storytelling or inevitable fictionalisation via the subjectivity of the one telling the tale: ‘Trust me. I’m telling you stories.’ Interjected with these sequences of stories from the past, present and future is a metafictional insertion of Winterson’s own narrative technique: ‘A beginning, a middle and an end is the proper way to tell a story. But I have difficulty with that method.’ As such, this novel reads similarly to The Power.Book in that the frame of the narrative (that of storytelling) allows for shifts and time travelling to occur as tales are begun and then discarded in favour of others. The brilliant layering of narratives and the lucid characterisation in Art & Lies or GUT Symmetries, for example, is cut down in Lighthousekeeping to a bare minimum so that, as the text reads quickly and the prose is unimpressive, Winterson’s characteristic themes shine through all the more, leaving a familiar reader with the impression that they have indeed read this novel before. And it would seem that they probably have.
The nineteenth-century subplot, in which the reader is introduced to witty caricatures of Charles Darwin and Robert Louis Stevenson, is more intriguing than the ‘present’ tale that is its necessary framing device. Due to the constant tale-telling, however, the reader never gets to know Silver as well as he or she gets to know Babel Dark, the intriguing man who is supposed to represent the Jekyll and the Hyde in all of human nature. One moment Silver is under Pew’s care, learning the trade of lighthousekeeping, and the next she is a thief of books and talking birds (after which incidents she is questioned by a psychiatrist who feels she exhibits psychotic behaviour) while, a few page turns later, she is a sexual woman proclaiming the importance of love: ‘I love you. The three most difficult words in the world.’
These leaps are certainly forgivable in such a non-linear narrative but oftentimes this freedom of narrative time and space seems to be an excuse for Winterson to be as erratic as she possibly can. Gone is the cohesive, yet fragmented, love-letter that is Written on the Body; gone is the in-depth exploration of gender, art, love and madness which was so exactingly drawn out in GUT Symmetries, Sexing the Cherry, The Passion and Art & Lies. It seems to me as if Winterson’s ‘novel cycle’ should end with GUT Symmetries as The Power.Book and Lighthousekeeping are very much the same novel: they both frame a set of unrelated stories in such a way as to pass the finished manuscript off as a novel rather than as a book of short stories.
There are some delicious passages in Lighthousekeeping that make one yearn for the Winterson of the past, the one whose prose was layered and not simplistic, the one whose themes (while recycled) were not so didactically announced. In a novel so concerned with the art of storytelling I personally found the leap into (the obligatory) lesbian sex scene near the end of the novel a mere afterthought on the part of Winterson, either to uphold her status as a lesbian writer or else to bring in the theme of love which never seems to become fully tangible or realised within the rigid and unfixed world that is Lighthousekeeping.
‘Trust me. I’m telling you stories,’ Winterson states in The Passion. And the reader does realise he or she is dealing with a writer of rare talent, the reader is all ears, the noble and avid listener. But, at the same time, the reader wishes there was more than a mere one story to listen to over and over again.
on 3 May 2004
fabulous in every sense.
Winterson writes very fine prose, and improves with every book. Tales, tall and short, references galore. Beautifully presented, and designed for a modern eye. She never disappoints. Go on, let her tell you a story.
Operatic in its construction, Jeanette Winterson's magnificently descriptive, impressionistic novel, tells two interconnected stories, each of them asking who we are as humans, how do we connect to the past, and what makes our lives worth living. On its modern level, it is the story of Silver, born in 1959, "part precious metal, part pirate." A young girl without a father, Silver is orphaned at ten and moves into the local lighthouse with Pew, the aged and blind lighthousekeeper, whose family has tended the light in northwest Scotland since 1828. There, she polishes the brasswork, makes the tea, and listens to Pew's stories, some of them historical and some more fanciful, but all of them filled with wisdom and lessons from the past.
The lighthouse, we learn through Pew's stories, was built by the father of Robert Louis Stevenson, who in 1878, returned to the light for a visit, where he became fascinated by the story of Babel Dark, a local preacher, who became the inspiration for Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dark, we learn through stories, fell in love with beautiful Molly in the early 1850s, then saw her embracing another man, became overcome with jealousy, and rejected her. After marrying another, however, he is soon drawn back to Molly, taking the symbolic name of Lux (meaning "light") when he is with her. His inability to control his emotions, however, leads to his Hyde-like abuse of women. "He was dark...the light in him never lit."
As the stories of Silver (which reflects light) and Babel Dark develop in parallel, the novel takes on operatic qualities, with the two stories often sounding like duets sung in counterpoint to each other. As each person seeks fulfillment through love, the primary quality which separates man from animals, the cadence of Winterson's writing rises and falls, swirls, and turns in upon itself, with the same themes of creation, connection, and the continuity of life echoing throughout. Winterson's incorporation of the Tristan and Isolde story and the visit of Charles Darwin to the lighthouse expands and further emphasizes the themes.
Both romantic and philosophical, Winterson offers much unique imagery. Pew, for example, is a "silent, taciturn clamp of a man." An Albanian family was "vacuum-packed into a ship," the grandmother, "all sun-dried tomato, tough, chewy, skin split with the heat." Her narrative tempo is flawless, the language elegant, and the characterization consistent with the themes. The end of the book harks back to the beginning, completing a circle and granting new insights into her meanings. A rich novel which the reader will want to read slowly and savor.
on 28 October 2012
This is a most unsatisfactory read. The author's nasal Mancunian/Lancashire tones are almost audible throughout this disjointed and ill thought out account. It hardly fits the shape of a novel, poetry, humour or fact. It is a travesty of all - mixing indiscriminately ill researched facts with flights of fancy and spanning an extremely dodgy timeline to boot. It is hard to take seriously a novel that uses a real life location without changing its name and shoehorning some imaginary story on facts that belong to some other location. The clanging mismatch between reality and Ms Winterson's imaginings really did irritate me. I was tempted to give up but persisted, vainly hoping that what she was writing was from e.g. a psychosis suffering female mental health patient who is learning to make sense of her world by pinning it to images of far flung places. Plot, characters, descriptions did not work and seemed to drift in time and space. If Silver was born in 1959 (same as Winterson herself) then none of the things she claims to have happened would have been right. This was worse than reading a M&B where the author forgets what colour eyes she's given the love interest on the first page and promptly gives him twinkling eyes of another colour at page 20. Give this a miss.
I picked up this book on an impulse, not having read anything by the author before, and therefore I did not have any pre-conceived idea of what I was going to find. As it turned out I was very disappointed, mainly because the writer is so self-indulgent. That's to say, she's written for her own satisfaction, and lost sight of the need to hold her readers' attention. She constantly tells us that this is a book about story-telling. Funnily enough, that's why people buy books. It's like the packs of frozen food you buy, which have a picture on the front captioned "Serving Suggestion" that shows the contents on a plate. Which is not a bad metaphor, since I note from other reviews that some of this book's contents has been regurgitated from previous offerings, and served up again.