Sexing the Cherry – Jeanette Winterson

January 7, 2010 § 9 Comments


Whenever someone’s eyes glaze over, you have lost them. They are as far from you as if their body were carried at the speed of light beyond the compass of the world.

In Sexing the Cherry, Jordan is found floating in the River Thames. A large woman, known only as the Dog Woman, rescues baby Jordan, and brings him up like her own son. But Jordan, having been ‘born’ of the river, belongs to the river, and it isn’t long before the flowing waters reclaim him once again, as he sets of with sails to travel the world.

The book is told with alternating narratives, first Jordan, then the mother, then Jordan again and so forth. But while the mother’s narratives sound like actual accounts of what is truly happening in their world, the same can’t be said for Jordan’s narrative. Because you see, Jordan is a dreamer. His richest experiences are in his dreams, as he travels to places not yet known to him, but which he believes to perhaps truly exist.

Having dreamt of a beautiful dancer once, he then sets off in search of this elusive character. Which brings him to meet the Twelve Dancing Princesses. They, who were supposed to have lived happily ever after with their twelve princes, are now living together as sisters once again. They each tell him their story, and each one of them as enchanting as the next. All very unpredictable.


Like the other books by Winterson that I have read, elements of religion (Christianity) have been slotted in. For the most part, the story was set during the time King Charles I was executed, with the rising of the Puritans, the fight with the Parliament and those sort. Our Dog Woman supported the King, and so there was quite a lot of mockery on her part about the people who wanted to see the falling of the King. Some very strong visual narratives ensue.

Towards the end of the book, we are introduced to another pair of characters, now in 1990. Nicholas Jordan is also a dreamer, someone who dreams of sailing and travelling the world, and to do so he decides he wants to join the army. During this time, he reads a newspaper article about a nameless woman who sits by a polluted river to draw attention and create awareness about what damage the world is suffereing from.

I listen carefully while they tell me with all the patience of a mother to a defective child that if we don’t have enough force to blow up the world fifty times over, we’re not safe. If we do, we are.

This latter part of the book reminded me much of Winterson’s other book, The Stone Gods, where she implied, not very subtly, about the way us humans are destroying the planet as we know it. Her thoughts (I assume these are her thoughts and beliefs), having been molded into the story, read just as beautifully as fiction.

I wish I could share the stories told by the Twelve Dancing Princesses. So so magical.


A couple of quotes:

When we are drawn into the art we are drawn out of ourselves. We are no longer bound by matter, matter has become what it is: empty space and light. (Incidentally, this reminded me much of Murakami. Teehee..)


Are we all living like this? Two lives, the ideal outer life and the inner imaginative life where we keep our secrets?


Jeanette Winterson is an LGBT author, and so this book qualifies for the LGBT Reading Challenge. Besides that, Sexing the Cherry also explores some bits of sexual identity, especially where the Twelve Dancing Princesses are involved. Winterson doesn’t take anything for granted, not even in fantasy world, because even in that world, they would hunt down and attempt to kill those in same-sex relationships. What makes one love affair (heterosexual) more valid and worthy than another (homosexual)?


Rating: 4.5

For: LGBT Challenge


§ 9 Responses to Sexing the Cherry – Jeanette Winterson

  • mee says:

    You and Mel U posted about Winterson’s books at almost the same time! I haven’t got a chance to read her book yet. I’ve been thinking about either Oranges Are not the Only Fruit (happens to be Mel’s review) or this one. Her books sound like something I would like, definitely.

  • su says:

    @ mee: I’ve loved all the Winterson books I’ve read so far, but I’m still pensive about Oranges. I’m going to give it a second shot soon-ish.. I hope you enjoy her work.

  • Tiina says:

    Great review! Now I want to reread Sexing the Cherry.:) Winterson is a brilliant writer.


  • Jo says:

    I like the sound of this one. I enjoyed oranges are not the only fruit and Stone Gods, but struggled with Gut Symmetries. I thought the Young Adult one Tanglewreck was good too.

  • su says:

    Thanks for coming by.

    @ Tiina: You’re right about Winterson being brilliant. I’ve loved her work so far.

    @ Jo: Hmm, I haven’t read Gut Symmetries, and was actually going to put it on my list to try later. Never heard of Tanglewreck though.. Will have a look-see.

  • aloi says:

    this book didn’t really agree with me at the time i read it. though i decided to read it because of the rave reviews of winterson. i think it was because i’d recently got an overload of anais nin’s erotica (and the 12 dancing princesses actually pissed me off)! maybe i’ll give her a while again.

  • su says:

    @ aloi: I guess Winterson’s writing isn’t for everyone. Did the 12 Dancing princesses really piss you off?! Haha… Ah well. Thanks for dropping by anyway. =)

  • Lawral says:

    I have had this book forever and haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. I didn’t know it had the 12 dancing princesses in it! Thanks for re-piquing my interest!

  • su says:

    @ Lawral: Hope you like it when you get around to reading it.

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