Volume 92, Issue 27

Thursday, October 22, 1998

mark's going to jail


Theorize your guts out


Jeanette Winterson

Random House Vintage

$16.95/223 pgs.

What's it about?

This is the most common question following the statement "I'm reading a great book right now." Generally, it's possible to give a short synopsis of the major points of the story-line. In the post modern age of literary reinvention, however, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine an actual plot line.

In Jeanette Winterson's latest novel, Gut Symmetries, it's apparent within the first few pages that a riveting plot is of little importance. Rather, she writes around themes.

Three main characters are present – Alice, an English physicist, Jove, an American and his wife Stella. These details are more easily gleaned, however, from the back cover of the novel rather than the actual text.

The obscurity of the details concerning these characters is a result of the text's construction. Each chapter is named after a different tarot card and all are written in first person. Therefore it is difficult to determine who is speaking and which tale belongs to which character.

All this confusion, however, does not detract from the novel. Winterson's obsession is with the intricacies of time, space and history. She collapses all three through quick successions of jumps between settings and historical periods and between a first person narrative and an undefined outside voice which theorizes about metaphysical conceits.

Despite its minimalist plot and complicated string of ideas, Gut Symmetries is a brilliant inspection of the complex world we live in. The novel intertwines all cultures and mythologies through slight suggestions such as the names of the characters themselves. Stella, whose name means star, represents desire, lust and the entire range of human emotion. Jove is the masculine "god" figure, who knows all, but must overcome his earthly limitations.

Connecting the characters is a thoughtful web of repetitious symbols, whose meanings alter as the characters grow and change. The sea is a dominant image throughout, representing creativity and growth as well as circularity and death.

The underlying principle of Winterson's novel is based in physics, but still accessible to the average reader. Gut Symmetries shows we are all connected, in desire and hate, whether it be proved by scientific theory or human emotion.


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Copyright The Gazette 1998