I picked this up in a spare moment and I liked it. I’m rather puzzled by it, but Winterson has a narrative style I enjoy.
The novel is narrated by three characters, “Handel,” “Picasso,” and “Sappho.” Of the three, Handel is the most lucid because he is the closest to the reality of the reader. Picasso is the pseudonym for a young female painter recovering from/escaping/surviving familial abuse. Sappho I could not figure out at all – was she a real person? An abstraction? A reincarnation or ghost of the actual poet, come back to comment on modern happenings?
Winterson plays a lot with narrator reliability. It was fascinating to watch the layers of characterization unfold. It wasn’t circular narrative (eg mixing up chronological events, like Alice Walker is fond of) as much as getting to know someone when you first meet them, then getting to know them again as they reflect to you about their life, and yet again, and again. I just started reading Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, and that style is quite different. I am curious what a religious person, or an artist, or a survivor of sexual abuse would make of this novel. It has a lot going on, but sometimes I felt like I was in the dark due to the indirectness of it all.
I started this book in October, on a flight home for a short visit, and did not pick it up again until this month. There is a mood continuity issue with that of course (since I remember the plot but not what I felt reading it), but I Edna O’Brien is consistent enough that I got up to speed fairly quickly.
So the mood of the book…yes, very serious. Gut-wrenching, at times. The best way to describe it is…holding a prism up to the light on a cloudy day. Most of the time all you see is the gray sky through the clouds, but occasionally and very briefly a ray of light will break through and you will see a burst of rainbow. There are also subtle shifts in the cloud – it starts out as a blank uniform blanket, and as the narrative progresses the sky divides into darker, majestic black clouds, fluffy white clouds, etc.
That’s the best summary of the novel’s feeling that I could hope to provide.
Something that intrigued me was a cultural detail whose implications that I, living in the US, do not fully understand: the presence of the priest coming to say the last rites and absolve the police for the sin of killing. Intellectually I know why this happens, but the way O’Brien writes about it there seems to be some irony or criticism or…something…that I’m not quite getting. It would be fascinating to talk to an Irish person about it, especially an older one who lived most of their adult life in the kind of uncertainty and fear of terrorism she describes.
A book definitely worth reading, but only if you have enough cheerfulness so that you focus on the beautiful artistry rather than the dark tone exclusively (though it is of course important).
I went to the county auditor’s office today and got it all taken care of. I feel accomplished.