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)?
For: LGBT Challenge