úterý 31. ledna 2012

Jeanette Winterson: The Passion (Vášeň)

   We read this book for our reading club where it did not meet with a huge success… but I think the book wasn’t entirely to blame. Anyway, I admit the book has some flaws.
   The story takes place during Napoleonic wars and has two main heroes. The first one is Henri, a young boy who has no experience with the world but gets into the army and becomes Napoleon’s personal cook. And he falls for Napoleon. Not in romantic way but he idolizes him and admires him. Henri thinks about his home village a lot, he is quite homesick and seems really taken aback by all that is happening around him. But in Napoleon he trusts and in everything he says so it keeps his world together. Main themes of his thought seem to be home, what it means for him and how his understanding of it changed dramatically (from “the boring place where I am going to spend the rest of my life” to “the dreamy place where nothing ever happens”) and the catastrophe of Napoleon’s attacking England which ended up in death of thousands of soldiers. He is very innocent and sentimental and rather feminine (which is the point of the book, anyway).
   The second hero is actually a heroine called Villanelle. She was born into a Venetian boatman family and her feet are webbed. Which is quite surprising because she is the first woman to have such feet. Which makes it quite difficult to overlook that Henri is rather a woman and Villanelle rather a man. Anyway, she works in a casino where she comes dressed as a boy. People fall in love with her, regardless if they are a man or a woman (women see her as a boy and men as…a very girlish boy). She is a redhead, she is beautiful, simply greater than life. Her (slightly overused) motto is “You play. You win. You play. You lose. You play.” And boy, she plays.
   Later, she falls in love with an elegant woman who comes into the casino and they spend some time together. The relationship somehow goes wrong, I can’t really remember how, but Villanelle leaves her lover. And she finds out she has lost her heart. Not in a symbolic way (well…depends on how you look at it) but she literally puts her hand on her chest and feels nothing.
   She then becomes a prostitute (unwillingly) and joins the French army on their way to conquer Russia. She meets Henri who found out that Napoleon may actually be kind of nuts and they decide to leave together and go back to Venice. I won’t go into more details but Henri falls for Villanelle, changing one unattainable idol for another (meh, chicks).
   I think the book has some very good ideas and is beautifully written. Winterson’s language is very poetic which can discourage some people from reading it. I don’t enjoy such book myself as I tend to lose attention and start thinking about something different and then I have to go back in the text and read it again. But I liked some parts of this book very much. What was really getting on my nerves were some sentences that the characters kept repeating. Not just the you-play line mentioned above, but also “I am telling you stories. Trust me.” Why, why did they have to say it like every ten pages? Interestingly, both characters used some of these lines, which kind of merged them together and made them almost one person (at least, it makes you consider position of the narrator).
   I think Winterson is an author worth trying. You may find out she’s not your taste but you can also fall for her forever. I wasn’t extremely amazed but I liked the book and I’d like to try another piece of her work (probably Oranges Are not the Only Fruit) but it will take some time before I get to it.

I didn’t know what hate felt like, not the hate that comes after love. It’s huge and desperate and it longs to be proved wrong. And every day it’s proved right it grows a little more monstrous. If the love was passion, the hate will be obsession. A need to see the once-loved weak and cowed and beneath pity. Disgust is close and dignity is far away. The hate is not only for the once-loved, it’s for yourself too; how could you ever have loved this?

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