that's what you'd expect in a democracy

I’ve been a huge fan of Jeannette Winterson for more then ten years, ever since her novel Passion knocked me out of any literary or emotional comfort zone I’d ever had. I can’t say I emulate her: her brand of poetry, vision and audacity just can’t be mimicked, though I did tell students they could learn bravery from her fearless descriptions:

One woman who kept a fleet of boats and a string of cats and dealt in spices is here now, in the silent city. I cannot tell how old she may be, her hair is green with slime from the walls of the nook she lives in. She feeds on vegetable matter that snags against the stones when the tide is sluggish. She has no teeth. She has no need of teeth. She still wears the curtains that she dragged from her drawing-room window as she left.

The city in question is the same as Calvino’s, the period early enough that the narrator ends up traveling with Napoleon’s cook.

Admittedly, I’d sort of lost the thread of her work in more recent years, as it focused more on myth than I felt I could. But The Stone Gods, her newest, feels simultanously like yesterday’s news, tomorrow’s headlines, and the kind of poetry that rattles the brain. At first her dystopia, in which humans all choose to genetically stop aging whenever they wish, is hysterically funny as it horrifies:

Making everyone young and beautiful has made us all bored to death with sex. All men are hung like whales. All women are tight as clams below and inflated like lifebuoys above. Jaws are square, skin is tanned, muscles are toned, and no one gets turned on. It’s a global crisis. At least it’s a crisis in the countries of the Central Power. The Eastern Caliphate has banned Genetic Fixing, and the SinoMosco Pact does not make it available to all its citizens, only to members of the ruling party and their favorites. This way the leaders look like gods and the rest look like shit-shovellers. They never claimed to be a democracy.

The Central Power is a democracy. We all look alike, except for rich people and celebrities, who look better. That’s what you’d expect in a democracy.

I was going to quote a much later section, wherein she explains and describes the apocalypse that put her society into being, “the ugliness of how we had destroyed it, the brutal, stupid, money-soaked, drunken binge of a 21st-century world.” But I’d rather you read it in her book — which I first read in an addictive rush, pulled by her well-constructed love story/space opera/reverse-Jonathan-Swift commentary. Then I read it again, to savor the poetry, and the crystal palace Winterson has constructed.

Meanwhile, I do have one question for her. When is the film coming out, inevitably directed by the guy who dreamt up Torchwood?

Published by chrislombardi

Journalist, novelist, educator.

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