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4.4 out of 5 stars
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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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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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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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on 12 March 2008
I read Oranges are not the only Fruits a long time ago and was impressed. Since then I have always wanted to read a second novel by Jeanette Winterson. The Passion, first published in 1987, is now 21 years old. At long last what finally prompted me to read a second novel by Winterson was the fact that in 2006 the Observer newspaper, following the New York Post, published a list it regarded as the fifty best novels from 1980 to 2005 written by British, Irish or Commonwealt novelists. Miss Winterson's The Passion featured in the list. In reading The Passion, did I ultimately regret the long delay in reading a second novel by Winterson?

The Passion is a very short novel that outline the fantastic adventures of its two main characters - Henri and Villanelle. The adventures are set against the backdrop of Napoleon's campaingns which effectively gives some shape to the novel. The story is structured in four parts with two first person narrators. This in itself demands a careful read especially as in the final part the narration suddenly shifts back and forth between Henry and Villanelle.

In a short preface to the 2001 edition, Miss Winterson tells us that: "The Passion was written in 1986, boom time of the Thatcher years." It appears that part of Miss Winterson's aim was to counter the Thatcherite culture of boom and get rich quick city boys. She states: "I wanted to write a separate world, not as an escape, as a mirror, a secret looking glass that would sharpen and multiply the possibilities of the actual world." So in this world that Jeanette Winterson sets out to create she reveals to us the extremes of human desires and behaviour. There is cross dressing, theft, prostitution, gambling where the stakes are very high, murder, but above all, and perhaps the saving grace there is falling passionately in love.

There is no doubt that this is a highly imaginative piece of writing. There are some acute observations but one must admit that within themselves do not always add up to much. Take for example the following: "I was happy but happy is an adult word. You don't have to ask a child about happy you see it. They are or they are not. Adults talk about happy because largely they are not." If you are therefore looking to read something that is grounded in realism then this is not for you as it was, broadly speaking, not for me. However, one must admire Miss Winterson's boldness to attempt something 'new'.

The text, narration and structure of this novel is very self-conscious. It could be said that the text is a writely one. Winterson wants to cast herself in the tradition of the great writerly novelists - I won't give any example. Her novel therefore attempts to draw attention to the mechanism of the story just as much as it does the story itself. In doing so Miss Winterson forces us, the reader, to produce meaning from it.

Ultimately, The Passion strikes me as a book that attempts to reveal the extremes to which humans are prepared to go to achieve their passions. The passions we pursue are alternatives to the drudgery of our mundane daily activities. But they can be dangerous to pursue. As Winterson says you could find yourself "among the desperate".

I sturggled to decide whether or not to rate this novel a two or three stars. In the end I opted for three stars because some of the final passages are quite moving as we realise that in the final analysis love conquers all. Henri locked up in prison tells us: "I think now that being free is not being powerful or rich or well regarded or without obligations but being able to love." Henri also reveals that even in prison one can still have the verve for life. In oxymoron fashion he says: "I like to know that life will outlive me, that's a happiness Bonaparte never understood."
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on 25 September 2000
I love the way Winterson's prose slips so quietly and elegantly into your brain, it sparkles, but discreetly, nothing vulgar... Re-reading her work is like returning to somewhere beautiful, you can't get the smile off your face because it's just as lovely as you imagined it would be... I love The Passion particularly because Henri's acceptance that he can't give Villanelle what she needs is so plain and painful. Everyone can recognise the ache when he says 'When I dream of a future in her arms no dark days appear, not even a head cold, and though I know it is nonsense I really believe we would always be happy and our children would save the world.' The knowing it to be nonsense and the believing it to be true, that is such an elegant way to describe the absurdity of love, I think. Do read it, it's marvellous.
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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 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 20 January 2013
Enjoyed the concept of this book very much. Winterson's writing style appeals very much. Have read Oranges are the only Fruit, this is a completely different read. Would recommend both and will choose more of her titles.
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on 22 October 2013
This is so beautifully constructed and written the words just pull you right into the characters and their lives. I wanted to read it again the minute I got to the end. I think I would have given it 5 stars if it had been an even more well-rounded ending - this one took me by surprise. For a description of the nature of love romance friendship and passion between individuals this book eases the reader through and illustrates the similarities and differences between these emotions. Very satisfying.
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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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