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Archive for November 10th, 2008

The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson

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“I’ve brought something with me that you might like to read. It’s in my bag. It’s called The Stone Gods. I found it on the underground last night.”
“What’s it about?”
“A repeating world.”

The Stone Gods recently turned up on Amazon.com’s Jeff Vandermeer-selected top ten SF books of the year (it is a 2008 book in the US, although published in 2007 here.) This is interesting because Penguin refused to send out review copies to genre magazines and the Arthur C Clarke Award jury. This perceived slight as well as Winterson’s own supposed lack of respect towards the genre exercised various commentators, most notably Ursula LeGuin in her review of the novel for the Guardian. Which sort of misses the point because – spaceships and robots notwithstanding – The Stone Gods is not best read as science fiction but rather it is a teasing fable in the manner of Ali Smith (who contributes the cover quote and receives a dedication.) Not that you can tell this from the cover. Penguin have proved the old adage by slapping a bog standard I R Serious Writer cover on the front that gives no hint of the playful work inside. This is a book that features a space pirate called Captain Handsome, for heaven’s sake.

It is a novel of three halves. In the first part we are pitched into a pretty broad satire of consumerism set on the Planet Orbis before switching to the 18th Century Easter Islands and then finally a post-World War Three Britain. These disparate parts are united by their castaway protagonists, searching for love in society that has been destroyed by humanity’s hubris. It is wrong, I think, to read this the way a science fiction reader would: linearly, literally. Winterson is much more interested in the story making emotional rather than scientific sense. So it is that that Billie Crusoe, our heroine in the first part, is also our heroine in the final part, despite the two being separated by millions of years. The world repeats itself. It is a conceit that is not without its awkward moments, occassionally teetering on the edge of the abyss of incoherence as so many fabulations tend to. What sustains it is the beauty of Winterson’s prose. As LeGuin – who seems to have liked the book against her will – puts it:

But even in the lectures Winterson’s tone is lively. Her wit varies from flashy to flashing, her highly mannered, crackling dialogue moves things right along, the surface of her tale scintillates.

You might quibble about how much of a complement “moves things right along” is but crackling and scintillating certainly capture the writing.

Written by Martin

10 November 2008 at 22:54

Posted in books, sf

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