Written on the Body is primarily a love story, and at a basic level it follows a very simple and recognisable plot: Two people meet and fall in love. The lovers are parted in a way that seems beyond their control. Time passes; obstacles are conquered. The lovers are reunited in a ‘happily ever after’ moment.
But because this isn’t just any love story (this is a Jeanette Winterson love story) the book works on so many more levels. It is a tragi-comic discourse on the measure and meaning of love; a picaresque novel of tall tales; an achingly beautiful love poem; a study of human anatomy; an exploration of ungendered writing; and a minefield of double entendres and double-takes.
The story itself is very stream-of-consciousness and episodic, with the highly unreliable (and ungendered) narrator continually calling into question not only his/her actions but his/her memory too. The stories of the narrator’s exploits with past lovers seem somewhat fanciful in nature, and perhaps too comedic to be completely believable. Conversely, the memories of Louise seem romanticised to a highly poetic level, and yet at the same time they feel earthy and all too real. Winterson somehow manages to make her writing both fleshy and ethereal, and perhaps this is the realisation that the narrator finally comes to about the nature of love.
This is a novel where the beauty is in the detail; the choice and placement of words leaving a reader musing over a sentence, and returning over and over to a crystal-cut and shimmering phrase.
In exploring the marks that love and life make on our flesh, the ‘secret code’ that is ‘written on the body’, Winterson takes us on an emotional journey that is both uplifting and heartbreaking, and ultimately unforgettable.
Review Quotes from RandomHouse:
"Winterson displays awe-inspiring control over her materials - over language - and a gift for the most searing insights into human nature." —The Globe and Mail
"Fun, challenging, often astonishing." —The Toronto Star
"Overall, the novel is a cleverly worked and lively meditation on finding love and being lovers, a book that leaves out neither the glory nor the limitations." —The Kingston Whig-Standard
"More immediate and more accessible than anything Winterson has written before. The simple elegance of Written on the Body becomes the author's already impressive oeuvre wonderfully well." —Calgary Herald
"Boldly explores that elusive language of love with characteristic versatility, wit and precision." —The Montreal Gazette
"A gorgeous, intensely sensual novel that celebrates the most inescapable fact of human existence in all its beauty, pain and impermanence." —The Vancouver Sun
"Winterson's writing, with all its vivid detail, startling intensity and aching intimacy, leaves an indelible impression." —Now magazine
"As well written as it is intelligent, as funny as it is compelling." —Xtra!
"A hymn of praise to erotic passion...the book has an unforgettable virtuosity. Winterson is an exciting writer. She has literary talent of a high order." —Victoria Glendinning, Vogue, U.K.
"An ambitious work, at once a love story and a philosophical meditation...a work that is consistently revelatory about the phenomenon of love. Winterson has been compared to an unlikely pantheon of literary figures from Flannery O'Connor through Gabriel García Márquez...The hyperbole seems not only imprecise; it obscures the originality of her voice, her distinctive mix of romanticism and irony, erudition and passion." —New York Times Book Review
"A comedy that delves deeply into our most sacred desires. A tragedy that reads like a playful narrative." —San Francisco Chronicle
"The best evidence yet to [support] Gore Vidal's oft-quoted declaration that Winterson is 'the most interesting young writer I have read in twenty years'. She has once again proved to be a storyteller of compelling interest and exceptional grace." —The Atlantic
"Moving and compassionate, a love letter as much as a love story." —Harper's Bazaar
"We've all been there, done that, and read the book when it comes to broken hearts and love affairs gone wrong, but it's the way Winterson tells 'em that makes this particular love story so original and compelling." —New Woman
"The most highly esteemed writer of her generation." —The Guardian
"Written on the Body charts love with the fresh precision a mapmaker might bring to a new territory...With equally inventive imagery, the book celebrates the sublime joys of physical love...A love story that has no need to tell its name. Fruity and frank, tender and poetic - it's a gem." —She, U.K.
"Many consider her to be the best living writer in this language....In her hands, words are fluid, radiant, humming." —The Evening Standard, U.K.
"Often very funny, like a stand-up comic turn...Winterson, with characteristic and endearing effrontery, wants to take all the tired old language and make it new." —The Observer, U.K.
"One of the most breathtaking novels of this year." —The Good Book Guide, U.K.