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Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 23 January 2017

"The Gap of Time" by Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson is a great novelist. I liked Oranges are the Only Fruit, her breakthrough novel, although its subject matter and its setting were so depressing, and I loved the whimsy of Lighthousekeeping.

The Gap of Time is her rewrite of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale which I reviewed here in this blog. It is a difficult play. It is set in places far distant and in two periods separated by nearly twenty years. It begins with what appears to domestic bliss shattered by the apparently unprompted and immediate outburst of insanely jealousy which destroys family and friends; it ends with a most improbably contrived happy ending. It wallows on the brink of disaster and needs the poetry of Shakespeare to keep it afloat.

There were moments in this book which I found difficult. It starts with the wonderful moment when a poor man discovers an abandoned baby and this is Winterson at her poetic best. Alas, the rhythm is almost immediately broken as we go into the back story for Leo (King Leontes). It is true that I always find the start of the play difficult because Shakespeare has to explain so much before the real story begins. Winterson starts to recover when she tells the back story of Leo and Xeno (King Polixenes). The two boys, as in the original, grew up together and she invents a gay relationship, perhaps to explain why Leo should be so unhinged when he later believes that Xeno is having an affair with his heavily pregnant wife MiMi (Queen Hermione). I thought this story of the two boys exploring their awakening sexuality was beautifully done.

Moving to present time (if anything in this play/book can be called 'present') there is quite a funny bit where Leo is using a secret webcam to spy on his wife and Xeno in his wife's bedroom. There is no sound so he has to interpret what is happening. This was a clever way of doing the scene where Leontes watches Hermione and Polixenes from afar and comments on their behaviour. It could also be quite funny although there were jarring moments.

Then the action begins and I was swept into the excitement. Leo, convinced (despite a DNA test which was a brilliantly clever updating of the Delphic oracle!) that Xeno is the father of MiMi's new baby, tries to kill Xeno and when Xeno escapes to New Bohemia Leo sends the baby after him.

Then the action moves to New Bohemia some years later where black bar owner Shep and his foolish son Clo are still looking after Perdita, the baby they found and adopted, who is now a young woman, beloved of Zel, Xeno's estranged son, who works for shady second-hand car salesman Autolycus (AUTOS LIKE US). This is pure pastoral comedy, beautifully written and very funny; at times I laughed aloud. But the love between Zel and Perdita is wonderfully written, (as is Clo's attempt to shag one, any one, of the three piece girl band).

Then secrets start to be revealed and the book sweeps to its improbable (but a little less improbably than the play) ending.

Again there is a moment I found difficult when we go into the rather silly game that Xeno has designed which features angels and feathers and I guess this was full of symbolism for Winterson but I got a bit bored with it and didn't bother to try and work it out.

But the character of Pauline really comes into her own towards the end and there are moments of comedy gold in the dialogue between her and Leo:
'There's an old Sephardi saying ...'
'There would be.'
'Give time time.'

So this was a book with bits that bored me, some wonderful comedy, some lyrical and beautiful prose which charmed and provoked thought at the same time (samples below) and an ending that was simultaneously daft and brought tears to my eyes. Really, just like the play.

  • "Folks drink more when there's live music, and that's a fact." (p 5)
  • "I was running through a riddle of low-fire shrapnel" (p 5) 
  • "Whites find it harder to believe in something to believe in. They get stuck on specifics, like the seven days of Creation and the Resurrection." (p 10)
  • "But I did it for the wrong reason and I knew that soon enough. I didn't do it to end my wife's pain; I did it to end my own." (p 12)
  • "It's nothing, she said when she knew she was dying. Nothing? Then the sky is nothing and the earth is nothing and your body is nothing and our lovemaking is nothing ..." (p 14) 
  • "The anonymous always-in-motion world." (p 14) 
  • "You think the sow can't squeal with pleasure because her belly's swinging with piglets?" (p 25)
  • "off-grid music, like opera." (p 31)
  • "'Books change the way people think about the world.' 'Not if they don't read them, they don't.'" (p 32)
  • "Pauline did not really believe in walking; first there were legs, then there were bicycles and now there were cars." (p 110)
  • "It was a five-second lifetime decision." (p 122)
  • "'Sphinx? Isn't that underwear?' 'Spanx is underwear. The Sphinx was a woman - you know the type: part monster, part Marilyn Monroe.'" (p 142)
  • "Zel was looking down at the floor as though it had something to tell him." (p 145)
  • "A white shirt so obsessively unwrinkled it looked like it had been ironed with Botox." (p 157)
  • "Celebrities are fictional characters. Just because they are alive doesn't make them real." (p 159)
  • "Is life just a series of accidents that from a distance look like patterns?" (p 245)

This is a writer who can weave magic with words, magic that will capture you in its enchantments.

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