Friday, May 13, 2011

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson, The World and Other Places

Random House, 1998

The best sentence in this book is: “It is right to kneel and the view is good.”

This is followed very closely by: “In my head I had a white rabbit called Ezra who bit people who ignored me.”

I read this book when it first came out, then reread it a dozen years later. How lovely it is! Sometimes I am unconvinced by what actually happens in the stories – several dart too quickly to romance for my taste – but then I should admit I don’t care very much what happens.

It’s the way Winterson uses the form of the story to look around at the world that enchants me. Most of all, I love this book for the strength and surprise of its sentences, many of which are suitable for engraving on stone.

I suspect that, if you fed this book into a computer, the ‘readability statistics’ would claim that it was written on a third grade level. The sentences are short and direct and apparently straightforward. The “simple” sentences make the complex ideas and images contained within them even more startling and effective. I shouldn’t pretend I know how this is done – she is a magician.

Every story collection buries the weaker numbers in the second half. It’s universal. This is the only collection I have ever read where I liked the later stories -- “Green Man”, “Newton”, “A Green Square” – even better than those that came before. What a lovely surprise!

How satisfying it is to move from one sturdy sentence to the next and be so often surprised. It is like being carried in a wheelbarrow to look around at wonders: “I stared at them, standing side by side, in an aquarium of content. Whatever they had, I didn’t have it, and it wasn’t cod.”

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