Tag Archives: Jeanette Winterson

The Stranger in the Mirror


The Stranger in the Mirror – A Memoir of Middle Age
By Jane Shilling
Vintage Books – £9.99

The Independent referred to this book as ‘dashingly cavalier and artfully artless,’ which I guess it is. It then went on to say it ”bubbles with wit and brio,’ which again, I can’t help but agree with. But there’s something about The Stranger in the Mirror – A Memoir of Middle Age that essentially comes across as being just a little too coquettish for its own good.

There’s absolutely no doubting the fact that Jane Shilling is an altogether magnificent writer. That she regularly writes about books for The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Daily Mail, clearly corroborates as much. Although mid-way through this thought provoking, and on occasion, eloquently written, semi-autobiographical memoir; I found myself reading from that of the subliminal persuasion as opposed to the ultimatum of the here-and-now.

This was particularly the case during the sixth chapter (of twelve) ‘The Body’s Body,’ where, credit due, the authoress makes no bones about being steeped in fashion: ”One day I bought a fashion magazine: ‘The Don’t Miss List – Vogue’s need-to-know guide to autumn,’ said the coverline. I hoped it might point me in the right direction. Inside were pictures of Kate Moss wearing trousers sewn from a Union flag; a grey chiffon top with a fringe of silver and sulphur yellow beads. In a derelict room with shattered floorboards and walls of ruined azure she stood between a chipped metal chair and an electric kettle, wearing a ballgown of pleated platinum satin; a short dress of white ostrich feathers and another of white organza roses with a studded black leather motorcycle jacket; a ruffled rag of rose and peach-coloured chiffon beneath a frogged military jacket […]. A paragraph of text explained the purpose behind the apparently random juxtapositions of silk fringing and metal chain; embroidered tulle with goat-hair and horsehair, studded leather and old metal badges. ‘Who wants to look like a fashion robot when the joy is adding the you, the me?”’

In and of itself, such Vogue induced writing is for me at least, a dive unto the relatively unknown. So why read the book in the first place eh?

Well, it’s good to venture unto new territory, although I was initially attracted to The Stranger in the Mirror, due to Shilling’s seemingly acute analysis of ageing – and the (nigh hopeless/never ending) coming to terms thereof. On the very first page, she already writes: ”Fashion journalists and doctors would place the onset of middle age well before the end of fertility, at the point at which one’s rate of egg production and cellular renewal begins to slow, and one’s ability to wear hot pants and biker jackets with conviction to diminish.”

Egg production and hot pants aside, there were moments that I found myself teetering upon the near precipice of rapprochement whilst reading some of what the authoress had to say. Especially such a line as the all prevailing: ”All that narrative, and not a syllable of it left written on the body.”

Whether or not such thinking was triggered by Jeanette Winterson’s excellent 1993 novel of the same name (Written on the Body) is of course, open to oodles of conjecture. Either way, this overtly self-introspective book will most certainly make you think.

David Marx

Experimental Fiction

Experimental Fiction

Experimental Fiction –
An Introduction for Readers and Writers
By Julie Armstrong
Bloomsbury – £17.99

If you don’t feel compelled to write reams of stuff by the end of reading and (hopefully) fully digesting this sheer ambidextrous explanation of what great literature has to offer, then writing’s probably not for you in you anyway. For such is the altogether, colourful gambit of Experimental Fiction – An Introduction for Readers and Writers, that upon reaching its more than measured conclusion, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a vast number of inspired ants in pants make a cathartic calamity of themselves.

Reason being, Julie Armstrong’s concise, chronological investigation bequeaths the reader with over a thousand ways in which to approach writing. Or not approach writing – as is more often than not the case.

From ‘Form and Fiction’ to ‘Gender Crisis,’ ‘Spirituality and the Beats’ to ‘Sexuality, Drug Culture and Fiction;’ from ‘Identity in Flux’ to ‘Giving Voice to Other,’ ‘Changing Perception of Reality’ to ‘Electronic/Hyper/Interactive Fiction,’ the authoress traverses an exceedingly wide terrain of literal potentiality.

And with having done so within the parameters of a mere 196 pages, it’s no surprise she cuts to the chase in next to no time.

Already in Section One, (‘When Was/What Was Modernity(ism)?’), Armstrong immediately discusses the profound impact that modernism has had upon fiction: ”Fiction became self-reflexive, that is, the work was not a representation of reality a realist art was, but a representation of the processes of representation; a work that explored its own structure. So the way the story was told became as important as the story itself. For example, in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway treats narrative and dialogue as self-conscious exercises by which the author himself recognizes to be exercises […]. And so, new forms and writing techniques came into being […], symbols, motifs, fragmentation dislocation, juxtaposition, collage, ambiguity, montage, stream of consciousness and multiple narratives, as the focus came to be on a character’s conscious and subconscious mind, as opposed to character development and plot.”

Needless to say, the further one delves into the book (which, given the subject mater, can on occasion, border on the scientific if not the seemingly dense), the more on stumbles upon the many varied offshoots of totally different writing styles.

One such instance is that of identity, where, at the outset of ‘Identity in Flux,’ Armstrong reminds us of the long lasting trajectory of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex: ”Even as far back as 1949 […] gender, as distinct from biological sex, is a construct, something made by society, that is, one is not born a woman. If gender, then, is a construct and can be changed, manipulated and even performed, it can be viewed as a facet of a multiple, contradictory, fluid identity, one, that is, in flux.” While a little further into Experimental Fiction, Armstrong tackles the continuing influence of scientific theory upon literature; and she does so by way of addressing Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry: ”Winterson is making the claim that time and space can only be represented through language and since language is arbitrary to the extent that different languages have conflicting systems of representation, how can we ever begin to suggest that words have any direct link to the concept which they are trying to evoke?”

In and of themselves, there’s much to ponder within the above quotes; just as there indeed is throughout much of this contemplative, and very worthwhile book. The mere fact that so many writers are touched upon and discussed (James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Gibson Italo Calvino to name but a few), exemplifies as much.

An inspired way to start the year, especially so far as both the understanding and the fulfilment of challenging writing is concerned.

David Marx

The Daylight Gate


The Daylight Gate
By Jeanette Winterson
Arrow Books/Hammer – £7.99

”And there was the little girl Jennet Device, vicious, miserable, underfed and abused. Her brother took her with him to the Dog to pay for his drink. Tom Peeper liked his sexual conquests to be too young to fall pregnant.”

So writes Jeanette Winterson quite early in The Daylight Gate, a powerful novel by a still powerful authoress, whose Written on the Body still remains one of my favourite books of all time. Although this doesn’t compare to it – not many books do – it still resonates with a haunting clarity that is on occassion, darker than a Nick Cave lyric.

Set in Lancaster Gate in 1612, two notorious witches await trial and certain death,while the seductress and well to do Alice Nutter rides to their defence. Meanwhile a Jesuit priest and former Gunpowder plotter leaves France to a place only he believes will offer him some form of sanctuary.

Littered throughout with an assortment of corker one liners such as: ”Sheep graze. Hares stand like question marks.”, ”He is as ugly as a boiled head.”, ”I’d like to see you being pelted with rubbish and soaked in day-old piss.”, ”Everyone in this cell was wholly mad, driven out of their wits by poverty and cruelty.”; the book nevertheless remains anchored to the sort of intelligence one has come to expect of Winterson. A resonating example of which appears in the chapter ‘Hoghton Tower,’ wherein she writes: ”Shakespeare opened the door. He said, ‘Oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles to betray in deepest consequence.”’

The exceedingly thin line betwixt what’s real and what’s imaginary, lurks throughout; and it is this quintessential quality that accounts for The Daylight Gate being something of a roller-coaster ride of a read.

David Marx