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on 24 September 2000
Prose as we've come to expect from Jeanette Winterson - often breath-takingly lovely, hardly a wasted word and deft use of the magical and the bizarre to make sense of the real and the unreal. But, the novel, although markedly superior to much of what's currently being produced, serves only to augment themes and metaphors expounded time and again in her other literary offerings. As Winterson says, she's a "preacher" - and knows only too well how to use the 'motif' to good persuasive effect. But enough already. It's time for Winterson to shed the evangelical robes because her art is suffering. She may be able to climb out of gender, out of this time, through her fiction, but she needs to climb out of her pre-occupations and tell us a little less about herself. She need write no autobiography. 'The Powerbook' is not essential reading, unlike 'The Passion' and 'Written on the Body'.
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on 4 November 2000
This new book navigates the seas of fiction and love. As a piece of internet prose, it easily surpasses Matt Beaumont's entertainment 'E'. Jeanette Winterson explores the opportunities offered by the net, the wardrobe door that leads to many a magical land. The heroine of this novel flits here and there, choosing exotic locations as she pleases. However, much of this book is also based in the real as much in the imaginary.
There's an ongoing plot in 'The Powerbook', a very modern love affair. It's the beauty of the prose that is really outstanding though. Winterson goes to Capri and uses the funicular railway as a metaphor in a manner that seems entirely natural, unforced, but prone to gravity. For me, there was a certain amount of nostalgia, as Winterson explores the settings of my own adolescent vacations, from the Isle of Capri near Sorrento, the romantic flirtation with Paris, the exhilarating adventure of seedy London. 'The Powerbook' lives up to its ambition of being an internet novel, since we can all attempt the Grand Tour via the Net nowadays. It's always a delight to follow in an author's footsteps, see the world through their eyes. For instance, you can find the painting of his wife Saskia as Flora on the net by Rembrandt. At first sight, this picture seems too dark to be the image that Winterson describes, but it's a delight to look at the picture again through her prose.
There's a section here where Winterson seems to return to the 'real life' of 'Oranges are not the Only Fruit', and it's very compelling to find a horror of nothing, the fear of having to invent, the burden of having to create. It does seem, though, that Winterson has been following current literary trends, borrowing and embellishing what she fancies. The Tulip trade is very much in fashion now, and Winterson has a faction devoted to George Mallory. Yet there are also much older, traditional tales. Lancelot and Guinevere, and Paolo and Francesca reading of their love, doomed to a much more bloody fate in the pages of Dante's Inferno. I had never come across the tale of Paolo and Francesca before, but it thrills me to find that it had been the subject of a variety of paintings, including one by the Pre-Raphaelite 'Dante' Rossetti.
This isn't a very weighty book in terms of page count. You'll find that you'll be able to finish off 'The Powerbook' in one sitting. Some might find the book a little costly in hardcover format. There is very little drama. Instead, there are some quite modern truths and observations. Winterson discusses the fact that nobody really seems to be content now, and that they always want more. That nobody wants to settle. Just waiting for the next opportunity, the next love affair. A society where everyone wants love, but wants to be left alone. So, this book is perfect for of a generation of short attention spans. Yet, if used in the right way, 'The Powerbook' can stimulate you a great deal; make you highly active as you seek out its subtle meanings, to compose your own story as you weave a path through the web, following the footsteps of Ali and Sebastian Melmoth. Maybe the Reformation and the Tulip trade brought the immortal Arabian Nights to us? Winterson also covers the theoretical debate of author/reader - which of these two really creates the fiction? Winterson comes down on the right side, and reveals fiction in its true light, as a dialogue between author and reader (literally). She conveys how some fictions will never die; will be forever revived by future artists. This poetic novel deserves to be kept on the bookshelf, and referred to whenever your heart desires.
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on 1 November 2000
I have lost myself in your words Jeanette, noone has done this to me before. But I fear that perhaps I have come to expect too much. My anticipation is too great, and I want to have my breath taken and my jaw to drop every time I read you. Indeed, all my well thumbed and much read Winterston volumes testify to the number of times my breath has been found wanting and my face gone slack-jawed. Alas The Power Book does none of these. The emotions and settings I know from you already, you taught them to me for goodness sake! Please teach me something new. I miss you.
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on 14 April 2013
Having read 'Oranges are not the Only Fruit,' I was surprised when I finished the Powerbook. It has next to nothing in common with Winterson's most famous work.

The premise of the novel is interesting; Ali (a e-writer with fluid gender) will give you 'freedom' by writing you into a story. Winterson appropriates historical tales, often narrating them from a previously marginalised perspective, around her original narratives of a couple in the throes of a passionate affair. I preferred the retellings of other stories to Winterson's own, though; she seems to be more interesting when speaking through another's voice.

Although I enjoyed reading the Powerbook, when I finished it I was left wondering, what was the point? Some of what Winterson says appears to be philosophical for the sake of it, rather than making any valid points. However, I will probably read the Powerbook again in a couple of years and see what I make of it then.
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on 16 August 2006
My copy has a quote from the Mail on Sunday review on the cover: "Buy it for someone you really love". I'd recommend that as no-one else is likely to forgive you for it.

It attempts to make something significant about different aspects of our lives - past, present, real and virtual, but doesn't really say anything except the obvious, which we all already know (that different aspects of our lives are linked because they are part of life). Worse, it overcomplicates in an attempt to imply meaning.

Some of the stories within the story are good and are the most interesting part of the book. But the bigger story, a love story, is cold and dull whilst attempting to be deep and exciting.

I found this book such a waste of time that it incensed me to write this review - my first as I am usually too lazy. Normally I would give my finished books away to friends or to a charity shop - but this is the first book I've thrown away. This is an extreme sign.

Ultimately, this is shallow and pretentious rubbish.
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on 14 September 2000
I finish far fewer books than I start. And to re-read any book is so far off my scale to hardly register.
So why have I read this book three times? Well, since it's by Jeanette Winterson, it's beautifully constructed of course with as much love in the writing as in the written. But it also has the feel of a favourite piece of music which reveals and makes sense of itself only through repeated listening. Its cleverly dislocated structure challenges and plays with the head and heart without settling for easy satisfaction.
Often funny and always affecting, part poetry and part fractured love song, and clearly of and for the 21st century, this is the loveliest book I've read for a very long time.
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on 21 January 2015
Every time I start to like it, it changes and I almost can't be bothered to continue. I did read to the end but I've spent my time with more interesting explorationships and more fulfilling discussions on the power of the imagination and language.
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on 30 May 2001
My first book from Jeanette Winterson: an awakening! reading reviewers on it makes me curious. I haven't read such a "power(ful) book" in a long time, but some say she has written better ones: I'm ordering them all!
besides the wonderful use of words, what really caught me are these in-between thoughts like:"Nobody thinks without a cup of water. The dreams of the dying cannot be irrigated." or "To avoid discovery I stay on the run. To discover things for myself I stay on the run." or yet "the self-righteousness that hides ignorance and fear." Each of those (and many more), one can spend an entire day (or many more) meditating about.
Atmosphere, light and music, first and foremost rythm! Rythm in the structure, rythm in the wording! Beeing a choreographer, these had a very strong effect on me.
Simon Schama, critic from the MAIL ON SUNDAY says: "Buy it for someone you really love." I did!
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on 12 May 2014
I don't really think this is a proper novel, more a collection of dreamlike, poetic fragments of a story. It was beautiful though, and short enough that the lack of coherent narrative didn't upset me.
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on 25 December 2003
The pitch sounds so good: "An e-writer called Ali or Alix will write to order anything you like, provided that you are prepared to enter the story as yourself and take the risk of leaving it as someone else."
Set everywhere and nowhere (London, Paris, Capri and cyberspace) The PowerBook does contain some powerful images and concepts that may stay with you, but in the end it feels like a complete con.
Instead of really exploring themes like identity, love, relationships and the nature of writing in the 21st century, it goes on to read like a collection compiled from the author's notebooks - half finished short stories, ideas, paragraphs, character studies.
Yes, this 'modern' structure mimics a kind of web (or internet), but it could also be seen as symptomatic of what is wrong in publishing today. Under pressure to produce another title, writers rush manuscripts and editors balance the time required to turn it into something worth reading with how many copies the author's name will sell before word gets out that it's really not that good. (If this is actually Winterson's way of saying something about the nature of writing in the 21st century, then it's very clever...)
Generally agreed to be a disappointment all round, those who had read other Winterson titles (I haven't) recommended 'Sexing the Cherry' and 'Written on the Body' as far more representative of her skills.
The Writer
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