Book Reviews
The Passion: Jeanette Winterson
16th Mar 2010Posted in: Book Reviews Comments Off on The Passion: Jeanette Winterson
The Passion: Jeanette Winterson

The extraordinary story of a French peasant boy and the daughter of a Venetian boatman in the time of Napoleon, told in their own words. Henri and Villanelle (a heroine with the name for a poetic form), each very different, each with their own personal passion. Henri’s is a heroic one for Napoleon, Villanelle’s attachment to a woman encountered in the casino where she works is both emotional and sexual. Villanelle lives life on the edge, cheating the clients at the casino, picking pockets, turning a trick. Henri is with Napoleon’s army, cooking and serving chickens (Napoleon’s other passion, apart from Jos├ęphine).

OK. So far I’ve made this sound like a historical novel. Well it is, yet it isn’t. The author’s research into the period disappears into the magic she’s sprinkled all over her characters. It reminded me of Virginia Wolfe’s Orlando, but The Passion is somehow friendlier and more intimate, and a perfect length. An adult fairy tale? Perhaps.

Napoleon’s groom, the only one who can handle his mad stallion, is an acrobatic dwarf from a circus. Villanelle may have webbed feet. The characters have stories to tell, they live and move and the reader lives and travels with them.

Certain sayings appear in the mouths of the narrators time and again, which feel like messages from the author herself. Somewhere between fear and sex passion is. And: You play, you win, you play, you lose. You play. And: I’m telling you stories, trust me. And others. And somewhere I think, In this city nothing is as it seems, but I may have imagined that one, I can’t find it now. Which seems to sum up the shifting quality of the book itself. And yet, for all the magical realism this story is intelligent, wise, perfectly plotted and beautifully crafted. It’s exactly as long as it needs to be and no longer.

I’m telling you stories, trust me. Jeanette Winterson is a master storyteller. Trust her. Suspend disbelief, allow yourself to be carried along by this scintillating story. You won’t be disappointed.

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