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Thursday, May 04, 2017

The Passion (1987) by Jeanette Winterson


Book Review
The Passion (1987)
by Jeanette Winterson

  The Passion is what Canadian literary theorist Linda Hutcheson first called, "Historiographic meta-fiction" around the time it was published.  This category contains many of the novels published between 1970 and the present that have garnered both serious critical and large popular audiences.  Writers who can be plausibly included as having works in this category are like a who's who of mid to late 20th century fiction: Peter Ackroyd, Isabelle Allende, Robert Coover, Don DeLillo, E.L. Doctorow, Umberto Eco, John Fowles, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Thomas Pynchon, Salaman Rushdie, Neal Stephenson and Kurt Vonnegut all fit the description first provided by Hutcheson.

   These books are both self-reflexive and concerned with "real" historical events and characters. Unlike many of the other authors represented in a survey of historiographic metafiction, Winterson is a queer woman, so that makes The Passion different.  It is a tale of two losers caught up in the seismic shifts of Napoleonic Europe: The French army enlistee from the bucolic French countryside and the web-toed, canal-wise Venetian red head, daughter of a boatman, who makes her way in the world as a croupier, pick pocket and occasional prostitute. Her amoral adventures are presented matter-of-factly without lingering or moralizing.   The two stories are told separately and become intertwined in the disastrous aftermath of the French invasion of Russia, when the two flee together to Venice.

  And while The Passion certainly qualifies as reflexive and self-aware, it is not a difficult read- unlike, say, Nights at the Circus, with which it shares some similarities. 

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