cover image Gut Symmetries

Gut Symmetries

Jeanette Winterson. Alfred A. Knopf, $22 (225pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45475-5

Alchemy and astrology, their philosophical similarities to quantum physics and hyperspace and a love triangle turned menage-a-trois entwine in Winterson's acutely fascinating yet strained seventh novel (Art Objects, etc.). Though Winterson sets up the tale with a gorgeous, elusive promise (a ""sister universe, contemplative, concealed, waits in our future... Can anyone deny that we are haunted?""), the basic plot is straightforward, even predictable. While giving lectures on the 15th-century alchemist Paracelsus aboard a cruise on the QE2, Alice, a bright young physicist, meets Jove, a married man and more established physicist also on the lecture-circuit whose crowd-pleasing specialty is time travel. The two fall breathlessly in love and begin an affair. Back in Manhattan, Jove's wife of 24 years, Stella, is heartbroken to learn of the liaison in a letter from Alice. She agrees to meet Alice at the Algonquin, however. There, after a self-conscious, elliptical conversation, the two women fall in love. They soon include Jove in their relationship. The finale involves Jove and Stella getting lost at sea on a solitary yacht-trip. Winterson's characters are more often mouthpieces for ideas than believable people. When Jove warns Alice,""I need time,"" Alice ponders Einstein's theory of time. Winterson's great talent and intellectual reach and originality are in evidence. but her crystalline prose is too icy for the passionate subject-matter. Awash in beautiful intellectual lights, like phosphorescence atop night waters, this love story drifts too far from the loamy shores of the heart and the gut. (Apr.)