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Volume 90, Issue 102

Wednesday, April 09, 1997



Symmetrical sex fiend has got guts

Gut Symmetries
by Jeanette Winterson
Knopf Canada
Hardcover, $28.95, 223 pages.

Jeanette Winterson returns to fiction with a combination of philosophy, a love and hate triangle and her measure of congruent certainties. The love story is almost simple – a married man and a single woman with similar careers and interests fall together. However, this is not more of the same for the avid reader of pulp fiction and romance novels. The Wintersonian challenge to cliché comes from telling the story from all angles; all interested parties hold valid arguments and emotions. There are no demons, only three people who fall victims of an almost traditional circumstance. After all, the mid-life affair is practically a milestone for some people. The promise of eternal love is fragile and perplexing. An affair throws harsh reality into the illusion of marriage.

There is life beyond the love triangle, the triangle recognized as a theoretically perfect form which proves disastrous in reality, Winterson thrusts the idea of parallel universes of the cosmos and the human form. That is, what the cosmos demonstrates is embedded in the physical form of every human being; ergo, gut symmetry. Elements of likeness are not restricted to Winterson's presentation of ancient constructs embedded in human anatomy. The correspondence between mythology and common life manifests itself in one narrative. The voice of James Joyce's Ulysses whispers to Winterson as her subject likens itself to Athene. A working class family from Liverpool displays a covert desire to be like the members of the Greek pantheon. The rush and fury of childhood in the 1960s is comparable to witnessing Roman citizens heralding their Caesar. Here the lauded Caesars are The Beatles. Perhaps Winterson was rewriting Joyce's Ulysses.

Winterson can be anything to her audience. She can be a raging, embittered and vindictive feminist. She can also be poetic, bending language into a frightening means to filter her reality. It's too easy to judge her by superficial means and call her a feminist. She uses double entendres and acknowledges clichés when she writes. Winterson masters metaphor/cliché by using her characters as agents of linguistic literal meaning. Verbatim. To be "ripped apart" is to be a dismembered body. To be "torn in half" by adultery is to cut all things shared in marriage into individual halves.

Unfortunately, it is easy to lose sight of Winterson's purpose in the mesh of crossed narratives, similes, ancient and contemporary physics and theories. The insertion of script marked, hyper-realistic dialogue and quick triads of symmetries breaks the insanity – the flood of physics literally translated to human behaviour. Winterson appreciates the principle of celestial bodies being entrenched on the insides of human beings. Her reading of Ulysses and her grasp of the modern and ancient scientific laws in her composition solidify her place in the canon of literature.

–Victoria Barkley

To Contact The Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1997