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It feels a bit of a challenge to review Jeanette Winterson’s wondrous 1997 novel Gut Symmetries. And that is Gut, not as intestinal, by the way, as I quickly discovered but as in Grand Unified Theory, which Wiki gives as : a model in particle physics in which at high energy, the three gauge interactions of the Standard Model which define the electromagnetic, weak, and strong interactions or forces, are merged into one single force. Though Winterson does also twine in what might be described as our own visceral gut instinct to that more dizzying ‘strong interactions of forces’

Essentially, this beautifully written, dazzling, dizzying novel is a story of an affair, though I even wondered whether describing it as a novel was quite right. It is more like a kind of prose poem, a metaphysical meditation. There is a narrative, but it is not linear. Everything tangles and connects, but is also reassuringly present. I know, irritating waffle from me, but the book is a kind of treasure chest, and the reader picks out fragments and gets obsessed by them, and another reader will probably pick out something quite different

Alice is an English theoretical physicist, and is working through her family history, particularly approaching that time where parents become frail. Jove (Giovanni) is an Italian American, from a Catholic background, older, charismatic, and in the same field. His wife, Stella is a magician of words, a writer, of Jewish background, mysticism her heritage. The three are tied as the electromagnetic weak and strong interactions, merged into a single force. Even in the names of her characters, Winterson is saying more than lies on the surface

“Mathematics and physics, as religion used to do, form a gateway into higher alternatives, a reality that can be apprehended but not perceived. A reality at odds with common sense”

Lest it seem just some writer’s conceit to weave the story of an affair (whether or not it is a mite more unusual than expected) with a meditation on quantum physics and tangles of mysticism, think on this : The quantum world, with all its peculiar charms, quarks and disappearing cats in boxes, alive or dead, and particles which manage perhaps to be waves, here, not here and there, turns on its head the solidity of our world. The chair I sit on, so solid seeming, is full of space. Think about that quantum world, and suddenly the world and its comforting familiarity is upside down, looking glass, topsy turvy, strange, enchanted and magical seeming. A pretty parallel to the headiness of falling headlong into love, discovering not only that the world itself is strange, but the lover and the beloved are strange, enchanted and magical to each other. That quantum world of interactions of forces merged into a single force

“Breathe in, breathe out. You breathe time and time’s decay. Matter disposing of itself, still imprinted with its echo, the form it took, the shape of its energy for a little while.

The mediaevals thought that the damned lived in Satan’s belly, hot pouch of indigestion, but damned or saved, what we were continues in the lungs of each other. Nitrogen, oxygen, tell-tale carbon.

Do not mistake me. This is not the afterlife. This is no afterlife. There is life, constantly escaping from the forms it inhabits, leaving behind its shell. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. History is in your nostrils”

Winterson has provided a work-out for mind, heart and viscera, seething with energy and conundrum. I am not sure why or how did not read her when she wrote her first novel back in the 80’s. But I’m thrilled to have a back catalogue to explore
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on 1 December 1998
The construction of the story blends myth and reality in unique way. However, inspite of this, the story is your typical affair between married man and woman (also married woman and woman), a subject that is common to hundreds of other works of fiction. In the end, a boring read.
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on 29 November 2013
Beautifully crafted and written The language is poetic. I am looking forward to reading it again soon. This is a book that will yield more and more on re-reading.
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on 20 July 2016
This is a difficult book to review quickly and to give a star rating. The language is flawless, the ideas are intriguing, but the narrative is an amorphous blob of frustrating chaos.
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on 20 April 2001
Its lyrical, poetic and really all the marvelous fantastic writing one expect from Jeanette Winterson. THe narrative is captivating and her use of language is thought provoking and as always spot on.
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on 20 November 2000
For the first couple of pages, i was in awe of the simplicity that winterson used, and the reaction that i experienced. as i continued on, i realised that this is precisely why i love her style so much. unfortunately, gut symmetries is not a book for someone who wants a light read, or does not have the capacity to concertrate intensely. i suffer from the latter, and therefore had to reread this book three times in order to do it justice. it is an increaddibly well written book, second best only to the passion.
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on 21 February 2000
Gut Symmetries is for those who can read. Winterson's lyrical prose reclaims the cliché-ridden theme of extramarital love from the cesspit of the dime novels and builds from it a multiple universe of endless beauty. Would be my favourite book, had it not been for the first-love enchantment of The Passion.
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on 9 January 2001
This book, and especially the language, hit me from the first page. I love the way Winterson tells her story, in the same way as I love mathematics and art, although I must agree it commands some concentration. Haven't read any other book written by her yet, so I guess I should try the Passion which seems like the favourite choice.
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