February 28, 2013

Book rec: TANGLEWRECK by Jeanette Winterson

I had no intention of reading this book because it was going to be pretentious, patronising drivel by someone much admired in the field of lit’rature, who would make it clear in every paragraph that she was slumming by writing a kids’ fantasy.

I loved it.

I had been, with most of the rest of the reading world, gobsmacked by Winterson’s first novel, ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT.  You’ve read it, right?  It was also made into a very effective (and affecting) TV miniseries*.  And while it is about an adopted girl who may be rather like Winterson herself growing up gay in an English Bible belt town with a ferocious mother, I entirely agree with Winterson’s comment about this, ‘I’ve never understood why straight fiction is supposed to be for everyone, but anything with a gay character or that includes gay experience is only for queers.’**  ORANGES is just a fabulous novel about growing up not belonging to your family or your society or your world.

I’ve read some of Winterson’s other books but I’m about a hundred years out of date in my liking for literature.  As a modern reader I tend toward the genre end.  But Winterson is a witty and powerful writer so I’ve kind of kept an eye on her.  There was a fairly substantial hoohah when TANGLEWRECK came out, and I thought, nah, it’ll just make me crazy.  But I kept frelling tripping over references to it.  Too many of the writers and critics I like liked it—in the edition I ended up with there’s a quote on the front from Jacqueline Wilson***—and I could feel myself becoming ensnared, rather like the heroine and her friend Gabriel in the evil machinations of Abel Darkwater and Regalia Mason.

And then on one of Fiona’s and my yarn expeditions we spent some time at an old-books store.  I’m sure I mentioned it at the time.  Well, one of the books I bought was . . . TANGLEWRECK.  I didn’t mean to!  But it was sitting face out on its shelf, all shiny and new, and obviously having belonged (briefly) to someone who didn’t appreciate it!  It was waiting for me!

Here.  Read Chapter One, The Time Tornado, and see if you don’t immediately want to read the rest of it:††  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tanglewreck-Jeanette-Winterson/dp/0747580758/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1362011579&sr=1-1#_

And there’s a scene near the end that I wish I had written.  This happens a lot less often than you might think.  There are lots of Great Books I wish in a sort of admiring, mostly intellectual way, that I’d written.  There are not that many books that get me close in, through the secret back entrance, grab me by the heart and squeeze.  This scene is one of those.  But Winterson thought of it first.  Ah well.

* * *

* Wiki says Winterson herself did the adaptation.  It was also extremely well cast.

** I am so grateful Wiki happens to cite that quote.  I was wondering how the doolally I was going to persuade Google to find it for me.

*** ‘A fantastic book, a big wonderful story.  It’s got everything’

† It was also rather less than half price.  Never underestimate the draw of a bargain.

†† Here also is a very good review, I mean not merely positive but persuasive, although in case anyone else has the same reaction I will add for your reassurance that I thought the rabbit named Bigamy was a sure sign of the tweeness I feared http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/jul/02/booksforchildrenandteenagers.jeanettewinterson

Here also is a review of the more-or-less sequel which I clearly have to read.  I haven’t done so yet because the Creature Sawn in Two will give me nightmares.




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