Jeanette Winterson: The PowerBook

Jeanette Winterson: The PowerBook

Postmodern, rarely precious or obtuse, almost recklessly playful, and often profound, Jeanette Winterson's early novels Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and The Passion found the author working with delicate prose and a canvas as big as history. Prone to incorporating Arthurian myths, fairy tales, Napoleon, and whatever elements of the past could be converted into outsized metaphor, Winterson has never played it safe, even constructing an entire novel, Written On The Body, around a protagonist whose sex the author never revealed. Given the wild ambition of her writing, it probably qualifies as quibbling to note that her new novel reads like a retread, despite taking a form that begs to be recognized as new. Set, more or less, on the Internet, The PowerBook features a protagonist named Ali who creates stories to order for her customers, but finds herself concentrating almost exclusively on the wishes of a married lover reluctant to leave her husband. Turning herself into a 21st-century Scheherazade, she constructs stories to reflect and illuminate their relationship while trying to meet the seemingly impossible demand of a love story without an either/or ending. Something of a grab bag, The PowerBook works best in Ali's story segments, the narrative too often dominated by deflated clever dialogue between the two lovers. That the structure as a whole doesn't hold up owes much to the imbalance, making it all too tempting, as with a slow-loading web site, to skip ahead to the good stuff. Though characteristically adventurous, here Winterson scores more points for intent than execution.

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