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The.PowerBook

By Jeanette Winterson
Published by Jonathan Cape

Asking what Jeanette Winterson’s later novels are about is akin to pointing at an abstract expressionist canvas and innocently inquiring, “What’s it a picture of?” After the grim realism of the debut that made her name, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, she has increasingly worked, in a highly idiosyncratic fashion, at the nebulous intersection of the real and the imaginary, pushing beyond the edge until boundaries blur.
Named after Apple’s laptop computer, her new offering uses myths, fairy tales, dreams and history in the way she has made all her own, and added information technology to facilitate further the jump cuts between past, present and future, multiple realities and shifting identities.
Set in London’s Spitalfields, Paris, Capri and Cyberspace, what story there is concerns an e-writer called Ali or Alix, depending which gender guise you catch her (or him?) in, will write anything you like to order, provided that you are prepared to enter the story as yourself and take the risk of leaving it as someone else. You can be ‘the hero of your own life’. You can have ‘freedom just for one night’. So the story of a lesbian affair between the narrator and a married woman whom she tries to persuade to leave her husband becomes an analogy for the curious relationship of trust, which might always be betrayed, that exists between a writer and a reader.

 

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It is a highly reflexive, and reflective, performance, both within itself and with reference to Winterson’s previous work. The mixture of tremendous flights of lyricism with almost preachy direct statement is always fascinating, though sometimes jarring. Such an unconventional disregard for traditional notions of plot structure and character development will be regarded by some as self-indulgent. However, she has created her own world, as every original writer or artist worth the name must do, and has won the right to pursue her vision and follow it wherever she sees fit. This kind of challenging writing tends to provoke polarised reactions, of love it or loathe it. This reviewer falls firmly into the former category.
At a time when we hear so much about the fate of reading and the death of the book, its role usurped as it is by cinema, television and the internet, Winterson could be said to be taking prose fiction on to the next stage, by engaging with and incorporating technology into her text, in a manner inaugurated by William Burroughs in his early trilogy, and developed in the work of Philip K Dick, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. However, unlike the boys, she is less interested in forces of control, and more concerned with release and transcendence.
Although perhaps not as riveting as The Passion or Sexing The Cherry, The.PowerBook, like almost everything else Jeanette Winterson has written, is about love, death, sex, beauty, language, boundaries and desire, and is evangelical and even redemptive in its believe in the power of pure love to triumph over more worldly, less savoury misuses of power in human interactions.
Who knows? Maybe next time out, she’ll produce an e-book.

First published in The Sunday Tribune

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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