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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on 10 October 2009
I read this again and I recognise where I go wrong with Winterson. I read her, like I would read an Agatha Christie, but these books demand more. I'm not a clever boy but it's funny I spent more time struggling with this than I would reading a 500 page book. It's the same as climbing a mountain and looking back at the view and I felt different having read it. This, by the way, in my opinion, is how Winterson is a genius. It's one thing enjoying a story and being distracted but it's quite different when a book changes the way you feel. She is, in short, an extrodinary writer.

I think before I sound really stupid, I should just list why this book needs to be read.
- Language here has a texture, like a silk or something.
- It's an amazing story
- "It was Napoleon who had such a passion for chicken that he kept his chefs working round the clock," is the best opening line of a book ever.
- The twist at the end, which I think is saying the absence of freedom can be chosen.
- Etc. Etc.

Really buy it. The Passion is a demanding mistress but a rewarding one.

Okay so now I'm a Winterson fan. I'll stop now.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2000
Love. When you mean it, when you really feel overwhelmed by someone there is pain as well as plasure. That is one aspect of this brilliant book. How faith in one human being can lead thousands to war, how nine days and nights can be the most important of your life. The book looks at how one person can completly alter your life and way of thinking. How love for another can make you look at yourself and the world differently. When love isn't returned it can lead to genuine pain and grief, but when returned the notion of happily ever after and a wonderful world seem within reason. Jeanette Winterson has written a beautiful book. It has a strong fantasy element but there is truth on every page, and we will all recognise feelings and fears we ourselves have experienced though we may never have been in war or walked on water. Reading a book like this makes you feel less lonely, and I would recommend it to anyone. Nicola.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 21 August 2013
Oh what a glorious book. It is set during Napoleon's futile attempt to invade England in 1805 and the catastrophic march into Russia in 1812. Winterson paints a historical scene in the same way Van Gogh painted the world around him. It's like stepping into The Starry Night where all of nature is illustrated to us through the prism of the artists mind. Jeanette Winterson pulls us through the looking glass to a time that happened and did not happen.

The story is in four parts. The first protagonist is Henri, a man who leaves home to fight for Napoleon. Driven by intense loyalty, Winterson illustrates the first of many shapes that passion can be made of. We never see much of Napoleon just learn of his appetite for chicken through Henri being recruited as an army cook. Henri's love for Napoleon and his vision is his talisman against the harsh conditions, the brutality and the dead around him.

We then meet Villanelle, daughter of a Venetian boatman, and watch her roam the decadent chaotic city of Venice. This part of the story is more sensual and mysterious as she explores the casinos and dresses like a man and falls in love with a married lady. It felt so liberating to read about somebody who was such a strong heroine and freely loved life.

Despite being technically a historical novel this book felt extremely contemporary for me in the best way. Winterson weaves love, tragedy, idealism and gender into a macabre and beautiful tale of history. Sometimes when you read a book, the story plays out in your head so vivid you can see it like you've walked into the author's dream. Winterson writes so well that I can still see the world she created when I close my eyes.

This is the third book I have read by Jeanette Winterson and my favourite so far. The language was gorgeous, the story rich and strange and the characters, especially Villanelle, leapt right out of the normal roles in historical fiction and fairytales and into weird and wonderful people.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 September 2008
'Bridges join but they also separate.'

'I like the collision between different realities', she says, as she prepares two mugs of Irish tea. 'It's exciting at the level of the imagination, because it allows for an expansion of perspectives. For example, you are walking down a real street and you also in a street in your mind that hardly exists.' ( Winterson)


Winterson's narratives play with the tension between connnection and rupture. She invests in narratives which 'interrupt' their coherence and sequencing through epigrammatic phrasing , thereby exposing the falsity of linearity, and the way that 'history' tries to impose 'grand narratives' which suppress the anomalous and individual.

Hence Winterson narrates The Passion from the persepctive of two 'minor' voices from History: these ordinarily voiceless narrators offer their views of Napoleon and his Russian catastrophes in personal and idiosyncratic registers whcih dismantle the supposedly 'original' Historical truth.

'Villanelle' wears a name which bears witness to her duality; 'villain' and 'elle' , the peasant and the poem. She is a hybrid subject whose adpatability serves to save her life and her heart through the graphic traumas of 'history.'

Henri too embraces both 'masculine' and 'feminine' behaviours opting in the end to preserve the sanctity of his love and heart through the solitude of San Servelo, an island's exile which echoes that of his hero Napoleon .

Do our choices make us mad or sane?

Hybrid narratives abound. We 'hear' echoes of other texts throughout the novel, we recognise the ways in which 'Venice' itself is a hybrid city, a place where boundaries between this and that, between past and present, between fear and sex blur and encounter each other, again and again.

And who would we choose to be? The pragmatic Villanelle or the idealistic Henri ? A bit like the Clash song: 'should I stay or should i go?'

Do we choose to cut our losses and move forward embracing eros and the 'kinetic' or do we retreat to an island, a rock of peace and thanatos, viewing reality from the security and sanctity of distance- and await an end?

'Passion is for the singleminded...'

'So you refuse and then discover that your house is haunted by a leopard.'

Who would dare to be Orpheus?!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The Passion' is one of the most original books I have ever read!

Though it is set during the Napoleonic era, it is a book where 'the laws of the real world are suspended'. Winterson blends historical fact with magical realism and chaos, to create a beautiful tapestry of language. An imagined reality, where humans with webbed feet, madness, passion, carnival and chaos intertwine.

The novel moves quickly between time and space; traveling from provincial France, to Paris, to Venice, to Russia, to a lunatic asylum on an island. The two main characters each have their own unique voice. Henri, the initial narrator, a foot soldier in Napoleon's army and Villanelle, a mysterious, magical woman who encapsulates Venice. Even Venice, is portrayed as a character. It is seen as a 'living city' with its own 'blood vessels'. Winterson captures the freedom and exotic nature of Venice, which creates a contrast with the regimented discipline of the army.

These voices intertwine to create a fascinating novel which will stay in your memory for a long time (I have been recommending it to everyone for the last six months).
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on 21 October 2013
In Jeanette Winterson's book The Passion, step back in time and experience much shock and after-shock caused by wars in parts of Europe. Learn from the voices of men and women from most walks of life, and delve deep via Winterson's questioning of what is the value of a philosophical debate about happiness; what is it to love (e.g. the characters Henri, Villanelle)and what is abjection when all is lost (e.g. the woman who demeans herself for a fur coat in order to survive the cold).

The character Henri experiences much through his involvement with Bonaparte, and Villanelle (a poetry form name). Other characters emerge from the hidden water-ways of Venice, and they bring to mind cities and their 'quarters' (e.g. refugees of persecution and war, before the pogroms.)

Soldiers at war in the warm weather of France have to cope with a sun that toughens their skins and colours it in a way that may have caused skin cancer; but the brave and traumatised soldiers carry on via their intermittent worship of Napoleon Bonaparte.

A criticism is that the word slit for eyes will not be liked by some readers today. Another point is that there are some humans with webbed toes, but the fantasy aspect of the novel mentions a whole foot as webbed. Winterson also depicts a world beyond the Catholic one of the land based workers. People of the Levant - the Middle East - also feature in this vivid, imaginative and part fable, part fantasy novel that is written in a beautiful and sensitive way.
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on 3 January 2011
Three readings of this slim tome in the past ten years do not yield a conclusion that each time it gets better, but it certainly holds up well.

This story of a peasant boy who cooks chickens for Napolean and the cross-dressing card dealer in a Venice, Italy casino is blessed with sparing touches of magical realism, informative research about the time and place(s) that are woven into the author's poetic prose, and a brand of contemplation about life's meanings and mysteries that cannot be taught.

"This morning I smell the oats and I see a little boy watching his reflection in a copper pot he's polished. His father comes in and laughs and offers him his shaving mirror instead. But in the pot he can see all the distortions of his face. He sees many possible faces and so he sees what he might become."

Of Venice, the card dealer Villanelle observes, "This is the city of uncertainty, where routes and faces look alike and are not. Death will be like that. We will forever be recognizing people we have never met.

But darkness and death are not the same.

The one is temporary, the other is not."

The story is rich in such passages and even when they may not ring true, the music seems always pleasing.

"The heart is so easily mocked, believing that the sun can rise twice or that roses bloom because we want them to."

I often recommend "The Passion" to nonfiction readers who say they can't stick with literature, because it is of the highest kind, but taxes only as much as you let it.

Villanelle's dealer's perspective may say it all. "You play, you win. You play, you lose. You play."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 July 2015
This is definitely one of the best novels I've ever read. Having been fascinated by Jeanette Winterson as a personality before I'd even read one of her books, I thought I'd begin with this one. I loved how the two main characters exist so separately from each other and then come together in such an interesting and unexpected way. It's beautifully written and makes me envious of being to write about anything so perfectly and vividly. I can't wait to read another Winterson novel...
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on 17 August 2013
Between the front and the back of the hardbound book, stitched to the spine, the page waits there suspended like a rope trapeze, its binding threads visible. The words are like grotesque acrobats, throwing broken shapes across the wood fibres, and now and again a word will dangle by its knees and snatch an idea from another's hands, as soft as a kiss, as quick as a kiss. A kiss that fills the mouth and leaves the hands free. The words, and the words alone, are the pleasure. Passion tastes all the sweeter when dusted with words, just like movement through air as the first grip loosens and the soul is falling, only to be gathered up in strong fists at the last moment.

This is a small book. But pages are not the only measure of stature, and this book is colossal with thoughts, but not incredible. Watch carefully for the echoes between words, across chapters, and if you are lucky you'll find sex, and fear, gambling and hero-worship, webbed feet and the uncountable carcasses of a chicken holocaust. And the passion. Always the passion.

I'm selling you stories. Trust me.
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on 5 November 2010
This book started with much promise as Henri embarks on his adventures as a young soldier in Napoleon's army but when Winterson changes narrators to Villanelle my interest started to wane and I steadily found the narrative less and less compelling. The plot too seemed to become less convincing and I got no great feeling of atmosphere when Henri and Villanelle journeyed back from Moscow. This book came with lots of great reviews but I felt let down as it lacked warmth and I never found the writing evoked any real emotional response from me. Especially irritating was the story surrounding Villanelle's heart and her affair with the married Venetian woman: it lacked any real depth and sadly passion which is strange given the title of the book.
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