cover image The Passion

The Passion

Jeanette Winterson. Atlantic Monthly Press, $16.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-87113-183-6

This arresting, elegant novel by the author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit uses Napoleon's Europe as the setting for a tantalizing surrealistic romance between an observer of history and a creature of fantasy. Henri is a naive French soldier who works in Bonaparte's kitchen and worships the conqueror until his starving and diseased army begins to crumble. Disillusioned and longing to escape a desolate posting in the Russian winter, the young man meets and falls in love with Villanelle, a mysterious Venetian hoping to retrieve her own heart, which has literally been stolen and imprisoned by a noblewoman she once loved. Passiondescribed by the manipulative Villanelle as ""somewhere between fear and sex''leads Henri on a desperate quest away from his beliefs and into an emotional labyrinth from which he may be unable to return. The slender story is sometimes lost in the strange brew of myth, fact and modernism, but British author Winterson's assured proseparticularly her stunning evocations of a glacial Russia and a decadent nighttime Venicedoes much to unify her unsettling tale. (May)