Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson (1989): In praise of older books

Week 25: Julie Parsons picks her favourite books

Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson

 

It’s all about the writing. Forget plot, place, dialogue, even character. None of the bricks and mortar of the novel matter.

Reading it is a shock to my system. It reminds me that I can write anything. I can put my fingers on the keyboard and let go.

London , “a foul place, full of pestilence and rot”, in the time of Oliver Cromwell. A woman lives by the river, had a name, but has forgotten it. “They call me the Dog-Woman and it will do.” She’s as big as the elephant in the travelling circus in Cheapside and scarred from smallpox. She finds Jordan, a baby “wrapped up in a rotting sack such as kittens are drowned in. . . She scooped me up, she tied me between her breasts whose nipples stood out like walnuts. She took me home and kept me there with fifty dogs and no company but her own.”

The Puritans are on the rampage. Preacher Scroggs has sex with his wife through a hole in the sheet. The king must die. The executioner sharpens his axe. He tests it on a sheep. “(I)ts legs buckled underneath itself, while the executioner with a single straight swing whistled through the fleece and the muscle and bone.” The king rested his head on the block “gave a signal, and a moment later his head was wrapped in a white cloth and his body carried away.”

But it’s not the kind of book which tries to make the past understandable in terms of the present. The imagined rules supreme. “The future and the present and the past exist only in our minds. . . even the most solid of things. . . are only hand-shadows on the wall. Empty space and points of light.” Above all, it is beautiful. “Singing is my pleasure. . .I sing inside the mountain of my flesh and my voice is as slender as a reed and my voice has no lard in it.”

See what I mean?

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.