Catalogue


Written on the body /
Jeanette Winterson.
imprint
[Toronto] : Vintage Canada, 1992.
description
190 p.
ISBN
0394280148
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
[Toronto] : Vintage Canada, 1992.
isbn
0394280148
catalogue key
3782491
A Look Inside
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Lambda Literary Awards, USA, 1994 : Won
Publishing Triangle Awards, USA, 1994 : Won
Stonewall Book Awards, USA, 1993 : Nominated
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
The interesting thing about a knot is its formal complexity. Even the simplest pedigree knot, the trefoil, with its three roughly symmetrical lobes, has mathematical as well as artistic beauty. For the religious, Kind Solomon's knot is said to embody the essence of all knowledge. For carpet makers and cloth weavers all over the world, the challenge of the knot lies in the rules of its surprises. Knots can change but they must be well-behaved. An informal knot is a messy knot. Louise and I were held by a single loop of love. The cord passing round our bodies had no sharp twists or sinister turns. Our wrists were not tied and there was no noose about our necks. In Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries a favourite sport was to fasten two fighters together with a strong rope and let them beat each other to death. Often it was death because the loser couldn't back off and the victor rarely spared him. The victor kept the rope and tied a knot in it. He had only to swing it through the streets to terrify money from passers-by. I don't want to be your sport nor you to be mine. I don't want to punch you for the pleasure of it, tangling the clear lines that bind us, forcing you to your knees, dragging you up again. The public face of a life in chaos. I want the hoop around our hearts to be a guide not a terror. I don't want to pull you tighter than you can bear. I don't want the lines to slacken either, the thread paying out over the side, enough rope to hang ourselves. I was sitting in the library writing this to Louise, looking at a facsimile of an illuminated manuscript, the first letter a huge L. The L woven into shapes of birds and angels that slid between the pen lines. The letter was a maze. On the outside, at the top of the L, stood a pilgrim in hat and habit. At the heart of the letter, which had been formed to make a rectangle out of the double of itself, was the Lamb of God. How would the pilgrim try through the maze, the maze so simple to angels and birds? I tried to fathom the path for a long time but I was caught at dead ends by beaming serpents. I gave up and shut the book, forgetting that the first word had been Love. In the weeks that followed Louise and I were together as much as we could be. She was careful with Elgin, I was careful with both of them. The carefulness was wearing us out. One night, after a seafood lasagne and a bottle of champagne we made love so vigorously that the Lady's Occasional was driven across the floor by the turbine of our lust. We began by the window and ended by the door. It's well-known that molluscs are aphrodisiac, Casanova ate his mussels raw before pleasuring a lady but then he also believed in the stimulating powers of hot chocolate. Articulacy of fingers, the language of the deaf and dumb, signing on the body body longing. Who taught you to write in blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons? You have scored your name into my shoulders, referenced me with your mark. The pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap a message on to my skin, tap meaning into my body. Your morse code interferes with my heart beat. I had a steady heart before I met you, I relied upon it, it had seen active service and grown strong. Now you alter its pace with your own rhythm, you play upon me, drumming me taut. Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights; the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes. Never unfold too much, tell the whole story. I didn't know that Louise would have reading hands. She has translated me into her own book. We tried to be quiet for Elgin's sake. He had arranged to be out but Louise thought he was at home. In silence and in darkness we loved each other and as I traced her bones with my palm I wondered what time woul
First Chapter
The interesting thing about a knot is its formal complexity. Even the simplest pedigree knot, the trefoil, with its three roughly symmetrical lobes, has mathematical as well as artistic beauty. For the religious, Kind Solomon's knot is said to embody the essence of all knowledge. For carpet makers and cloth weavers all over the world, the challenge of the knot lies in the rules of its surprises. Knots can change but they must be well-behaved. An informal knot is a messy knot.

Louise and I were held by a single loop of love. The cord passing round our bodies had no sharp twists or sinister turns. Our wrists were not tied and there was no noose about our necks. In Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries a favourite sport was to fasten two fighters together with a strong rope and let them beat each other to death. Often it was death because the loser couldn't back off and the victor rarely spared him. The victor kept the rope and tied a knot in it. He had only to swing it through the streets to terrify money from passers-by.

I don't want to be your sport nor you to be mine. I don't want to punch you for the pleasure of it, tangling the clear lines that bind us, forcing you to your knees, dragging you up again. The public face of a life in chaos. I want the hoop around our hearts to be a guide not a terror. I don't want to pull you tighter than you can bear. I don't want the lines to slacken either, the thread paying out over the side, enough rope to hang ourselves.

I was sitting in the library writing this to Louise, looking at a facsimile of an illuminated manuscript, the first letter a huge L. The L woven into shapes of birds and angels that slid between the pen lines. The letter was a maze. On the outside, at the top of the L, stood a pilgrim in hat and habit. At the heart of the letter, which had been formed to make a rectangle out of the double of itself, was the Lamb of God. How would the pilgrim try through the maze, the maze so simple to angels and birds? I tried to fathom the path for a long time but I was caught at dead ends by beaming serpents. I gave up and shut the book, forgetting that the first word had been Love.

In the weeks that followed Louise and I were together as much as we could be. She was careful with Elgin, I was careful with both of them. The carefulness was wearing us out.

One night, after a seafood lasagne and a bottle of champagne we made love so vigorously that the Lady's Occasional was driven across the floor by the turbine of our lust. We began by the window and ended by the door. It's well-known that molluscs are aphrodisiac, Casanova ate his mussels raw before pleasuring a lady but then he also believed in the stimulating powers of hot chocolate.

Articulacy of fingers, the language of the deaf and dumb, signing on the body body longing. Who taught you to write in blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons? You have scored your name into my shoulders, referenced me with your mark. The pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap a message on to my skin, tap meaning into my body. Your morse code interferes with my heart beat. I had a steady heart before I met you, I relied upon it, it had seen active service and grown strong. Now you alter its pace with your own rhythm, you play upon me, drumming me taut.

Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights; the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes. Never unfold too much, tell the whole story. I didn't know that Louise would have reading hands. She has translated me into her own book.

We tried to be quiet for Elgin's sake. He had arranged to be out but Louise thought he was at home. In silence and in darkness we loved each other and as I traced her bones with my palm I wondered what time would do to skin that was so new to me. Could I ever feel any less for this body? Why does ardour pass? Time that withers you will wither me. We will fall like ripe fruit and roll down the grass together. Dear friend, let me lie beside you watching the clouds until the earth covers us and we are gone.

Elgin was at breakfast the following morning. This was a shock. He was as pale as his shirt. Louise slid into her place at the foot of the long table. I took up a neutral position about half way. I buttered a slice of toast and bit. The noise vibrated the table. Elgin winced.

'Do you have to make so much noise?'

'Sorry Elgin,' I said, spattering the cloth with crumbs.

Louise passed me the teapot and smiled.

'What are you so happy about?' said Elgin. 'You didn't get any sleep either.'

'You told me you were away until today,' said Louise quietly.

'I came home. It's my house. I paid for it.'

'It's our house and I told you we'd be here last night.'

'I might as well have slept in a brothel.'

'I thought that's what you were doing,' said Louise.

Elgin got up and threw his napkin on the table. 'I'm exhausted but I'm going to work. Lives depend on my work and because of you I shall not be at my best today. You might think of yourself as a murderer.'

'I might but I shan't,' said Louise.

We heard Elgin clatter his mountain bike out of the hall. Through the basement window I saw him strap on his pink helmet. He liked cycling, he thought it was good for his heart.
Louise was lost in thought. I drank two cups of tea, washed up and was thinking of going home when she put her arms around me from behind and rested her chin on my shoulder.

'This isn't working,' she said.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1992-12-07:
This fourth effort from British writer Winterson ( Sexing the Cherry ) is a high-concept erotic novelette, a Vox for the postmarital crowd. The narrator, a lifelong philanderer (``I used to think marriage was a plate-glass window just begging for a brick''), has fallen in love with Louise, a pre-Raphaelite beauty. Louise is unhappily married to a workaholic cancer researcher, so the narrator leads her into a sexually combative affair. This scenario seems obvious enough, but Winterson never reveals whether the narrator is male or female. Rather, she teases readers out of their expectations about women and men and romance: Louise calls the narrator ``the most beautiful creature male or female that I have ever seen,'' and the narrator observes, ``I thought difference was rated to be the largest part of sexual attraction but there are so many things about us that are the same.'' When the narrator breaks off the affair after learning that Louise has cancer--only her husband can cure her--the work turns into a eulogy for lost love. Winterson manipulates gender expertly here, but her real achievement is her manipulation of genre : the capacious first-person narration, now addressed to the reader, now to the lover, enfolds aphorisms, meditations on extracts from an anatomy textbook, and essayistic riffs on science, virtual reality and the art of fiction (``I don't want to reproduce, I want to create something entirely new''). ``It's as if Louise never existed,'' the narrator observes, ``like a character in a book. Did I invent her?'' One wonders, as Winterson intends, and then wonders some more. For Louise--and the narrator's love for her--never seems quite real; in this cold-hearted novel love itself, however eloquently expressed, is finally nothing more than a product of the imagination. (Feb.)
Appeared in Library Journal on 1993-02-15:
Like Andre Breton's dizzying poem, ``Ma Femme a la chevelure de feu de bois'' (``my woman with her belly like the unfolding fan of days/ . . . My woman with her swan's back buttocks''), the narrator of Winterson's ( Sexing the Cherry , LJ 2/15/90) new novel relentlessly celebrates the beauty of a beloved woman's body--but the trick here is that we do not know whether the narrator is a man or a woman. The story is minimal and not altogether original: a corrusive sensualist experiences many women but finally becomes obsessed with one, stealing her from her husband, only to discover that she has been guarding a terrible secret: she is threatened by a terminal illness. The fascination is the lush, plush language and the way two aspects of the physical--passion and bodily decay--are delicately interwoven. Not to everyone's taste, but serious readers and sensualists will enjoy. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/92.-- Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''
Reviews
Review Quotes
"Winterson displays awe-inspiring control over her materials - over language - and a gift for the most searing insights into human nature." The Globe and Mail "Fun, challenging, often astonishing." The Toronto Star "Overall, the novel is a cleverly worked and lively meditation on finding love and being lovers, a book that leaves out neither the glory nor the limitations." The Kingston Whig-Standard "More immediate and more accessible than anything Winterson has written before. The simple elegance of Written on the Bodybecomes the author's already impressive oeuvre wonderfully well." Calgary Herald "Boldly explores that elusive language of love with characteristic versatility, wit and precision." The Montreal Gazette "A gorgeous, intensely sensual novel that celebrates the most inescapable fact of human existence in all its beauty, pain and impermanence." The Vancouver Sun "Winterson's writing, with all its vivid detail, startling intensity and aching intimacy, leaves an indelible impression." Nowmagazine "As well written as it is intelligent, as funny as it is compelling." Xtra! "A hymn of praise to erotic passion...the book has an unforgettable virtuosity. Winterson is an exciting writer. She has literary talent of a high order." Victoria Glendinning, Vogue, U.K. "An ambitious work, at once a love story and a philosophical meditation...a work that is consistently revelatory about the phenomenon of love. Winterson has been compared to an unlikely pantheon of literary figures from Flannery O'Connor through Gabriel Garcia Marquez...The hyperbole seems not only imprecise; it obscures the originality of her voice, her distinctive mix of romanticism and irony, erudition and passion." New York Times Book Review "A comedy that delves deeply into our most sacred desires. A tragedy that reads like a playful narrative." San Francisco Chronicle "The best evidence yet to [support] Gore Vidal's oft-quoted declaration that Winterson is 'the most interesting young writer I have read in twenty years'. She has once again proved to be a storyteller of compelling interest and exceptional grace." The Atlantic "Moving and compassionate, a love letter as much as a love story." Harper's Bazaar "We've all been there, done that, and read the book when it comes to broken hearts and love affairs gone wrong, but it's the way Winterson tells 'em that makes this particular love story so original and compelling." New Woman "The most highly esteemed writer of her generation." The Guardian " Written on the Bodycharts love with the fresh precision a mapmaker might bring to a new territory...With equally inventive imagery, the book celebrates the sublime joys of physical love...A love story that has no need to tell its name. Fruity and frank, tender and poetic - it's a gem." She, U.K. "Many consider her to be the best living writer in this language....In her hands, words are fluid, radiant, humming." The Evening Standard, U.K. "Often very funny, like a stand-up comic turn...Winterson, with characteristic and endearing effrontery, wants to take all the tired old language and make it new." The Observer, U.K. "One of the most breathtaking novels of this year." The Good Book Guide, U.K.
"Winterson displays awe-inspiring control over her materials - over language - and a gift for the most searing insights into human nature." The Globe and Mail "Fun, challenging, often astonishing." The Toronto Star "Overall, the novel is a cleverly worked and lively meditation on finding love and being lovers, a book that leaves out neither the glory nor the limitations." The Kingston Whig-Standard "More immediate and more accessible than anything Winterson has written before. The simple elegance ofWritten on the Bodybecomes the author's already impressive oeuvre wonderfully well." Calgary Herald "Boldly explores that elusive language of love with characteristic versatility, wit and precision." The Montreal Gazette "A gorgeous, intensely sensual novel that celebrates the most inescapable fact of human existence in all its beauty, pain and impermanence." The Vancouver Sun "Winterson's writing, with all its vivid detail, startling intensity and aching intimacy, leaves an indelible impression." Nowmagazine "As well written as it is intelligent, as funny as it is compelling." Xtra! "A hymn of praise to erotic passion...the book has an unforgettable virtuosity. Winterson is an exciting writer. She has literary talent of a high order." Victoria Glendinning,Vogue, U.K. "An ambitious work, at once a love story and a philosophical meditation...a work that is consistently revelatory about the phenomenon of love. Winterson has been compared to an unlikely pantheon of literary figures from Flannery O'Connor through Gabriel Garcia Marquez...The hyperbole seems not only imprecise; it obscures the originality of her voice, her distinctive mix of romanticism and irony, erudition and passion." New York Times Book Review "A comedy that delves deeply into our most sacred desires. A tragedy that reads like a playful narrative." San Francisco Chronicle "The best evidence yet to [support] Gore Vidal's oft-quoted declaration that Winterson is 'the most interesting young writer I have read in twenty years'. She has once again proved to be a storyteller of compelling interest and exceptional grace." The Atlantic "Moving and compassionate, a love letter as much as a love story." Harper's Bazaar "We've all been there, done that, and read the book when it comes to broken hearts and love affairs gone wrong, but it's the way Winterson tells 'em that makes this particular love story so original and compelling." New Woman "The most highly esteemed writer of her generation." The Guardian "Written on the Bodycharts love with the fresh precision a mapmaker might bring to a new territory...With equally inventive imagery, the book celebrates the sublime joys of physical love...A love story that has no need to tell its name. Fruity and frank, tender and poetic - it's a gem." She, U.K. "Many consider her to be the best living writer in this language....In her hands, words are fluid, radiant, humming." The Evening Standard, U.K. "Often very funny, like a stand-up comic turn...Winterson, with characteristic and endearing effrontery, wants to take all the tired old language and make it new." The Observer, U.K. "One of the most breathtaking novels of this year." The Good Book Guide, U.K.
"Winterson displays awe-inspiring control over her materials - over language - and a gift for the most searing insights into human nature." The Globe and Mail "Fun, challenging, often astonishing." The Toronto Star "Overall, the novel is a cleverly worked and lively meditation on finding love and being lovers, a book that leaves out neither the glory nor the limitations." The Kingston Whig-Standard "More immediate and more accessible than anything Winterson has written before. The simple elegance of Written on the Body becomes the author's already impressive oeuvre wonderfully well." Calgary Herald "Boldly explores that elusive language of love with characteristic versatility, wit and precision." The Montreal Gazette "A gorgeous, intensely sensual novel that celebrates the most inescapable fact of human existence in all its beauty, pain and impermanence." The Vancouver Sun "Winterson's writing, with all its vivid detail, startling intensity and aching intimacy, leaves an indelible impression." Now magazine "As well written as it is intelligent, as funny as it is compelling." Xtra! "A hymn of praise to erotic passion...the book has an unforgettable virtuosity. Winterson is an exciting writer. She has literary talent of a high order." Victoria Glendinning, Vogue, U.K. "An ambitious work, at once a love story and a philosophical meditation...a work that is consistently revelatory about the phenomenon of love. Winterson has been compared to an unlikely pantheon of literary figures from Flannery O'Connor through Gabriel Garcia Marquez...The hyperbole seems not only imprecise; it obscures the originality of her voice, her distinctive mix of romanticism and irony, erudition and passion." New York Times Book Review "A comedy that delves deeply into our most sacred desires. A tragedy that reads like a playful narrative." San Francisco Chronicle "The best evidence yet to [support] Gore Vidal's oft-quoted declaration that Winterson is 'the most interesting young writer I have read in twenty years'. She has once again proved to be a storyteller of compelling interest and exceptional grace." The Atlantic "Moving and compassionate, a love letter as much as a love story." Harper's Bazaar "We've all been there, done that, and read the book when it comes to broken hearts and love affairs gone wrong, but it's the way Winterson tells 'em that makes this particular love story so original and compelling." New Woman "The most highly esteemed writer of her generation." The Guardian "Written on the Body charts love with the fresh precision a mapmaker might bring to a new territory...With equally inventive imagery, the book celebrates the sublime joys of physical love...A love story that has no need to tell its name. Fruity and frank, tender and poetic - it's a gem." She, U.K. "Many consider her to be the best living writer in this language....In her hands, words are fluid, radiant, humming." The Evening Standard, U.K. "Often very funny, like a stand-up comic turn...Winterson, with characteristic and endearing effrontery, wants to take all the tired old language and make it new." The Observer, U.K. "One of the most breathtaking novels of this year." The Good Book Guide, U.K.
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Summaries
Main Description
The most beguilingly seductive novel to date from the author ofThe PassionandSexing the Cherry. Winterson chronicles the consuming affair between the narrator, who is given neither name nor gender, and the beloved, a complex and confused married woman.
Main Description
The most beguilingly seductive novel to date from the author of The Passionand Sexing the Cherry. Winterson chronicles the consuming affair between the narrator, who is given neither name nor gender, and the beloved, a complex and confused married woman.

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