Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Powerbook" by Jeanette Winterson

PowerBook  is my first Jeanette Winterson novel.   It  will not be my last.  PowerBook is a 21th century story of the reading and writing life.   It is also about love, sexual possession, the Isle of Capri, the internet, the nature of history and a good bit more.   It is not a straightforward story and can be very much enjoyed just for the beautiful writing and the many thought provoking things said in the book.   The story line is not real hard to follow just give it a bit of time to develop.  

In my comments on the book I will just take a look at some of what it says about the reading life.  The central character, Ali or Alix (the sexes blur a bit here) is a professional online writer of stories, sort of custom made to enliven the lives of her customers who can be the leads in the stories if they like.   The only catch is once the story begins they cannot control how it will end.

The sign on the door says VERDE, nothing more, but everyone knows something strange goes on inside.  People arrive as themselves and leave as someone else.   People say that Jack the Ripper used to come here.

Reading seemingly brings freedom

This is where the story starts.   Here, in those long lines of laptop DNA..This is an invented world.  You can be free just for one night.

Stop for a portion  of a second to think about all the  books about prisoners set free by reading-from the Count of Monte Cristo on.

The  book spends some time in ancient Antioch

 Antioch was an aqueduct city...a civilization built on an aqueduct is a perilous barbarian with a pickaxe can drown thought...There is always a city.   There is always a civilization.   There is always a barbarian with a pickaxe.  Sometimes you are the become the city , that civilization, you once took a pickaxe and destroyed what you hated, and what you hated was what you did not understand

Reality is not fixed in the world of PowerBook.  

 Nothing is solid.  Nothing is fixed.   These are images that time changes and that change time.

When I read this passage about automatic writing I wondered what Mr and Mrs Yeats would think of it:

There is always the danger of automatic writing.   The danger of writing yourself towards and ending that can never be told..There is a fatefulness and loss of control that are somehow comforting.   This was your script but now it writes itself. 

Science is a story.   Reality is a story.

We are people who trace with our fingers a marvelous book, but when we turn to read it again, the letters have vanished.   Always the book must be rewritten.

There are many fascinating historical allusion in the book, many of them almost as throw away lines.   You have to pay careful attention or you will miss the best part of the show.

There is other thematic veins one could mine in this book.    Much of the language of the book is beautiful.   The book tapped into my own story lines, which is no doubt one of the reasons I liked it so much.  Maybe the notion that we create  the world with our stories is escapist fantasy.   On the other side, maybe the  old Hindu masters were right.   Both of these ideas can and to me are true at the same time.    

The primary theme of my blog is the literary treatment of the reading life.   If I meander away from that I always have it in mind.   I see Powerbook as a core very early 21th century reading life book and endorse without reservations.   Read it slowly.

Su [shu] has an a very interesting post on the book that goes into some of the other themes.

As I read the remarks about aqueducts I thought of Oriental Despotism  by Kurt Wittfogel.   It is a very interesting historical work that attempts to explain why civilizations often begin in deserts rather than more seemingly welcoming places.   


Suko said...

"Always the book must be rewritten." Sounds intriguing! Excellent review of Powerbook, Mel. Su does have a wonderful review of this as well.

Table Talk said...

I haven't come across this one. I wonder if it's published under a different name in the UK? I'm not a great fan of her novels, especially the one she wrote for children, which I think misjudged the audience badly, but I did love the column that she used to write in the Saturday Times. I miss it.

ds said...

Wonderful review, Mel. I have added this book to the ever-growing list. Thank you!

Michelle said...

I like that you picked up on how it is the stories that change our lives. I think Jeanette did a very fine job on this book, and I think that your review of her book, though you didn't write much about it, is just the thing to describe her book. Because I felt, at the time when I was writing up my own thoughts about the book, that selected quotes told so much more about her story than anything I could have written.

You're right about the language she uses. Absolutely, stunningly beautiful language.

I'm reading another one of her books now. And true to form, it's another beautifully written piece. I hope to be posting my thoughts on it soon, though time has been seriously wanting.

Great post here Mel. And also, congrats on having made such a good journey so far, in such a short time. It's been good to read your reviews, really. =)

Mel u said...

Suko-I enjoyed this book a lot-thanks as always

Table Talk-this was my first of her books-I also subscribed to her mailing list-

DS-I hope to read one more of he books by year end-in time I will read them all-sometimes I do not feel a need to "understand" a work, I just let it flow over me-what I get, I get

Michelle-some times writing a blog post about a novel is liking being asked to do a school report on why butterflys are beautiful-I did not even attempt to blog on Kristy Gunn's Keepsake even though it goes into a lot of Reading Life Issues-maybe on a second read I could try-

Mel u said...

Jeanette Winterson has her own web page (where she has the columns for many years archived)-the web page gives a lot of information (it is a marketing device in part, naturally)-you can sign up for her mailing list and she will send you her columns as she writes them and update you on her activity-I jsut got my first E mail from her