Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Reader's Diary #205: Jeanette Winterson: Lighthousekeeping (FINISHED!)

If you're like me, when you're feeling under the weather, you're hard to please. Songs you typically enjoy are grating, comedies you normally laugh at are annoying, and books you'd probably be into just lack that oomph you're looking for. The latter might just be the case here, so feel free to consider it a disclaimer...

I'll start with the good. I liked the "cameos" of Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Darwin. Not only because messing around with historical characters is always fun, but also because both were good choices to expand on her story theme. Stevenson, and in particular his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde book, could be used to illustrate many points; for instance, story characters have more than one side and neither side's escapades by themselves is a complete story (I think Winterson goes further by suggesting that the idea of a "complete story" is fictional anyhow).

Darwin appears after Babel Dark discovers a rich fossil bed. Babel is a clergyman, and the fossils along with Darwin's Origin of Species throws him into a bit of emotional turmoil. Stories, as it seems, are open to interpretation, subject to change, and often coincide with multiple versions.

Interesting stuff, right? It was a quick read and did hold my attention. Winterson's stories themselves though didn't quite measure up to her theses. Towards the end, any investment I had in the characters of Pew and Silver was gone, lost in a quagmire of broken fragments and attempts at originality. I understand that fragmentation was another part of Winterson's point, but it didn't seem to work for me. I was just left confused. Likewise, with the poetic parts. Even down to the character names, Winterson tried hard to infuse the book with metaphors and other figurative language, symbols, and other poetic elements. And like poems, further reads of the book might bring it more into focus. Still the poetic attributes seemed inconsistent with the brash and obvious tactics that Winterson employed while injecting (what I feel) are her own opinions on storytelling. I mentioned this in my last post, but I'll end with another example. Maybe I'm committing a sin here by confusing Winterson's opinions with that of one of her characters, but in my defense, the whole book echoes this sentiment and so I don't think I'm stretching the truth...
"I do not accept that life has an ordinary shape, or that there is anything
ordinary about life at all. We make it ordinary, but it is not."


Barbara Bruederlin said...

The concept behind this book rather confuses me. I'm essentially lazy and don't care to have to work too hard to keep track of characters and such. So I guess it's Bridget Jones' Diary for me.

John Mutford said...

I'm looking forward to the book club discussion to see if that helps.