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on 10 October 2017
If you like Winterson, you will like this. An accomplished writer steering her own course!
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on 14 August 2017
Jeanette... What can I say, she's amazing. Buy it!
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on 5 August 2017
Very good condition
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on 18 August 2014
This is no ordinary book. Jeanette Winterson has such an incredible mastery of the English language that it takes your breath away, and as an aspiring writer it makes me feel that I should throw the towel in right now and stop being such a twat!

The story revolves around the recollections of an ultimately tragic love affair with a woman called Louise. The narrator recounts the unfolding events and how they have compared with those of previous lovers. The narrative is supported by vivid descriptions and musings on the nature of love and relationships (as well as a hundred other things), all deftly condensed into surprisingly few words. There is for example a discussion on the fortunes and misfortunes of marriage, and another on reasons why people fall out of love.

You need an open, tolerant mind to read the book, the explicit sex and colourful language are uncompromising. And although the narrator is ungendered it soon becomes obvious that he/she is a woman; at one point "she" recalls dancing with a previous girlfriend "sealed like a pair of 50s homosexuals", and later on another aquaintance called Gail instinctively assumes that the narrator's lover would be a man.

The main thrust of the book is to convey the feelings and self-examination that come from being totally consumed with love for another person, and there are evocative passages full of tenderness and longing. The book's title is contained in one such passage. Another memorable one is "Louise let me sail with you over these spirited waves. I have the hope of a saint in a coracle." There are also some moments of almost accidental hilarity, "I had a girlfriend once who could only achieve orgasm between the hours of two and five o'clock". And there are some beautiful touches of poetic description, such as "your hair tumbles from your chignon and washes your hair with light".

There are some embellishments to the main story, on everything from space walks to scientific breakthroughs, physiology, historical events and religion. There is also a section on all you ever wanted to know about cancer. I found some of these sections of more interest than others. Some passages appear rather laboured and detract from the main point rather than add to it. "Molecular docking is a serious challenge for bio-chemists" begins an analogy on the compatibilty of the narrator with Louise, which doesn't strike me as particularly ameliorative to the main message.

And despite all the beautiful prose and description, I think the book falls short in one respect. This is not a book I would want to find on a desert island. The love affair is ultimately doomed, the narrator doesn't even say goodbye to Louise (it is suggested she goes off and dies alone), and there is an undercurrent of despair and almost bitterness running through the tale. The narrator has regularly gate-crashed into marriages (Louise was married and the narrator is accussed of destroying their marriage). And "he / she" regularly complains of having to conduct affairs in clandestine fashion, away from prying eyes. Some passages are devoted to the effects of cancer, decomposition of the body, and the process of burial. "For the bereaved, the hole is a frightful place" is found in one section of morbid contemplation. Some passages are quite grisly: "You won't feel the blunt head [of the worm] burrowing into your collapsing tissue." It's often very dispiriting, if not depressing, and I actually found it hard to make myself read to the end of the book.

The language itself sometimes has a cold, almost brutal feel about it. Even some of the author's most intimate passages can be presented in such terms. "She nuzzles her c**t into my face like a filly at the gate" is a colourful description but not very tender or romantic. This is cold, raw, hard reality. You could say cold, hard Presbyterian reality. "This is life. Tough, get on with it" seems to be the main message you take from this book. The problem with that is that people often want more than brutal reality, they want to be inspired, to have hope. This book doesn't give that, although funnily enough her later work "Why Be Happy..." is far more upbeat (if less manic in its content), even though it recounts some of the most traumatic events of the author's own life.

So Jeanette, if you are reading this, this is my challenge to you. Write a book like "Written on the Body" that is both inspiring and full of hope. With your command of language, it would be a work of art indeed.
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on 29 July 2011
Written on the Body is the fourth book by Jeannette Winterson. It is written in first person by a narrator whose name, gender and age are never revealed to us. The narrator is in love with a woman called Louise who is married to a cancer researcher, and the book is about the narrator's love and loss of Louise, and their story.

When she falls prey to cancer herself, the narrator chooses to forsake their love in favour of Louise's life, as they believe that only her husband can save her. Since they have been separated however the narrator finds it too much to bear and yearns to have Louise back in her life- however she has since moved away and there is no way of finding her or even knowing whether or not she is still alive. The story is therefore based around the couple's past and the narrator's reflections on it.

It's hard to read this book without imagining a gender for the narrator, particularly as s/he has such a strong 'voice'. I found it really interesting to have this challenge while reading; Winterson has written this book in such a way that forces the reader out of their expectations about gender stereotypes.

The genre of this book is also hard to tie down. It is clearly a love story and has elements of romance, but it is also about loss and grief, and the pleasure and the pain of being in love.

The language use in Written on the Body is very unique: Winterson uses incredibly lyrical, beautiful phrases to tell her story. This is a very original work, and a powerful love story told by a strong literary voice. I'm not sure it's for everyone, but I found it fascinating, provoking, and also very touching. It is nothing like Winterson's other works, so I recommend approaching it with an open mind to really understand what the book is about.
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on 19 March 2000
I read this years ago knowing nothing about Jeanette Winterson and devoured it in one session. As a lesbian I identified the narrator as female and one I could really relate to. I have reread the book a number of times and find it multilayered and as beautiful as good poetry, the fact that so few things are spelt out and so much is hinted at appealed to me rather than the reverse. It is the only book of hers I love perhaps because of those things, perhaps because despite the fact she chooses not to be straightforward in style, I find so many of the things she writes about love and the experience of it deeply accurate. People are not simple and nor are lives, I found in her writing revelations on human nature that touched me, made me think hard, and ultimately changed some ignorances I had about myself forever. It is a passionate book about a passionate love and to my mind one of the most successfully done, especially in the lesbian field of literature.
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on 23 August 2009
I actually enjoyed this book but I felt that the writer was incredibly self-indulgent and a little pretentious, despite some fabulous imagery in places. The idea was very good and the ambiguity led to some interesting reading however it all felt a little contrived and many of the passages very over-worked.
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on 26 June 2013
Louise leaves her husband but when she finds she has cancer, she leaves her new lover too. Written on the Body is a journey of self-discovery made through the metaphors of desire and disease.

A period of celibacy: It hasn't rained for three months. The trees are prospecting underground, sending reserves of roots into the dry ground, roots like razors to open any artery water-fat; Despair as clock approaches bedtime

A visit to the STI clinic: like ante-chamber of Judgement Day - out of way of deserving patients

An avoidance of romance: escape coca and hot water bottles

Satiated: Cheeks like gerbils because mouth was full of Louise; Wet with sex and sweat' Smells of my lover's body still strong in my nostrils which reminds me of the Song of Songs; Three days without washing and she is well-hung and high; the pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap a message on to my skin

Men having affairs are easy to spot - new underwear, cologne

I wonder how promiscuous one-night-stands affects the body - the only other time we give our bodies into the hands of strangers is when we die and go to the undertakers

For many of us, love is something inside our heads and/or hearts.
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on 18 April 2000
This is absolutely my favourite book ever. I've read it 100 times, and I always find something new there. The truths Winterson writes of love have the power to make me break down in tears, and I turn to this book again and again.
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on 29 June 2009
A beautifully written love story. Like other works I've read by this author, it is sometimes brilliant and sometimes less than that, but this is, for me, one of her easiest and most enjoyable novels. Much is made of the fact that we're never told if the narrator is male or female, but it could only really be a woman writing like this, which of course makes it a lesbian love affair. This is irrelevant in this book (don't bother buying this if you're looking for steamy lesbian sex) but I do sometimes wonder why such a high percentage of good writers just happen to be lesbians.

Well let's just be grateful for what they write. Jeanette Winterson is one of the best writers around today, and this is one of her best books.
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