cover image Art & Lies

Art & Lies

Jeanette Winterson. Alfred A. Knopf, $22 (206pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44181-6

In her highly experimental fifth novel (after Written on the Body), Winterson abandons a linear plot in favor of a kaleidoscopic, polysemous study of ruptured lives and artistic pursuits. The story is full of philosophical musings on the intertextuality of art, the marginalization of female creativity and the ravages of modernity. It concerns three characters who converge on a train departing a dystopian, futuristic London: Handel, a brooding, defrocked priest and doctor; Picasso, an introspective painter who attempted suicide after being raped by her brother; and Sappho, a restless, ethereal incarnation of the Greek lyric poet. Each character is fleeing past traumas and present injustices; each undergoes a vague apotheosis by the novel's end. The story also involves the discovery of an ancient book whose passages, by writers throughout history, are interpolated into the text. Despite its poetic cadences and epigrammatic phrasings, Winterson's language often succumbs to bizarre imagery and bewildering narrative leaps (the final nine pages are from the score of Strauss's Rosenkavalier). This emphatically esoteric novel will reward those readers patient enough to thread together its patchwork of themes and ideas. (Mar.)