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

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson (1997, 176 pages)

The Passion is the third novel by Jeanette Winterson that I have read.  I first read her very interesting Powerbook   which I liked best for its many epigrammatic turns of phrases.   I saw it as a kind of metaphysical novel about the relationships between stories and our own created realities.   I next read her perhaps most famous novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, a core GLBT text that is considered autobiographical.    I liked it but preferred the prose style of Powerbook.

The Passion, which I completed a few hours ago, is now my favorite Winterson novel so far.    It is in theory a historical novel set in Napoleonic Europe (1799 to 1815 ) mostly in Venice, Moscow, Paris and ending on the Island of St Helena where Napoleon died.    It centers on two characters.    Henri, a young soldier who becomes a cook for Napoleon.   It was interesting to see his attitude toward Napoleon who was almost a god like figure to him. I admit I have always wondered why Napoleon generated such fanatical loyalty among his followers.    This book tries to answer that question but I am still puzzled.     The adoration and power of one man, Napoleon is one of  the more interesting themes of this book.   The other and more important central character in the book is Villanelle,  the daughter of a Venetian boatman who is born with web feet.   The mysterious, seductive, semi-sinister city of Venice plays a very important part in the city.     Moscow and Paris play a secondary role.    Henri is along for Napoleon's million man march on Moscow (only about 100,000 came back) but he is one of the lucky ones.    Nothing ever makes him lose his faith in his beloved Emperor.   We are left to wonder how much of the power of Napoleon came from a general homoerotic fixation on him and his sex life.

Villanelle is the more interesting of the two characters.   Not surprisingly, she is sexually  ambiguous.    Eventually the two central characters connect.

People will read and love this story for the many wonderful lines.   It reads almost like a fable or fairy tale version of history.   There is a very subtle highly evolved philosophy of history operating behind the scenes in The Passion.    A number of fun and funny things happen along the way, a lot of them involving confusions of third parties about the gender of Villanelle.  

I endorse this book for sure to those already familiar with and fond of the prose style of Winterson.    I could perhaps see some saying the style is too self-consciously "clever" and saying the appeal of the work is pretty much in the many wonderful turns of phrase and find it to lack character development.   Of course if we take it as a fairy tale we do not really expect a  lot of character development and personally I liked some of the lines so much I did not care much about the  other elements of the novel.  

There is a lot to think about in The Passion.

Please share with us your experience with and thoughts on Winterson.

Mel u

1 comment:

Marg said...

I have only read Winterson's Atlas retelling called Weight, which was issued as part of the Canongate Myth series.

One day I should read more from her.