the stone gods by jeanette winterson

You couldn’t quite call Jeanette Winterson’s 2007 novel The Stone Gods post-apocalyptic, but you couldn’t quite call it anything else.  It is a book that manages to be both post- and pre-apocalyptic, for Borges-ian reasons that I would rather leave unspoiled, and it managed to annihilate every expectation I had before starting.  Global warming is underway.  Industrialized civilization has used up the planet, and technology will not be able to save it.  Humans look to the solar system for answers.  You couldn’t get much more classically dystopian or science fiction.

The first 78 pages of it are delicious: fast-paced, with Winterson’s unique touch (literary PA-ish sci fi, hip hip hurray).  The first line drew me into the story in a single gasp.  “This new world weighs a yatto-gram.”  And yet, like much of what sounds good when written down, it is absolutely meaningless.  What is a yatto-gram?  A made-up word that Winterson uses to give herself a leg up into the science fiction world she then attempts to disassociate herself from (and then never explains).  But what a wonderful world, how buoyant in the feeling of life that comes at you from the page.  There is no more factory farming (meat is created in labs), no more old age (people “fix” their age when they feel they’ve reached an ideal), and plastic surgery has made everyone gorgeous.  Amendment: what a wonderfully written world that you wouldn’t want to inhabit yourself.

In between highlighting quippy lines, I seethed excitement that a talent like Winterson has dabbled in science fiction (I had no idea) and entertained thoughts of all of the people I would recommend this book too the minute I finished devouring it.  Then wham! a style and setting/story break so jarring occurs that I found the rest of the reading soured by the jolt.  The writing remained solid.  The story veered and wound and, as Ursula Le Guin notes in her own review of the book, draws “near Borges country.”  It was artful.  It was deep, and I am still not entirely certain that I have understood it.  Though what follows that initial story is good, literary, well-done even, I mourned the loss of that first plot, a story I would have followed for as many pages as Winterson had cared to put down.  I like to think that in an alternate universe, or perhaps in one eerily similar to ours but precedent, that book exists, and I am reading it.

if you need a good quote about the environmental destruction of our time, this is the book for you

On the “demise” of the planet as seen through non human-centric eyes:

“Orbus is not dying.  Orbus is evolving in a way that is hostile to human life.”

On how the hypocrisy of the first world’s call to environmental action and carbon saving:

“‘If those out-of-control lunatics in the rest of the world would just get the message—’

‘That when we destabilized the planet it was in the name of progress and economic growth.  Now that they’re doing it, it’s selfish and it’s suicide.”

On how resistance is undermined:

“‘Humans have given away all of their power to a “they.”  You aren’t able to fight the system because without the system none of you could survive.”

to read or not to read

Despite my reservations, I really enjoyed this book.  Winterson is always writing about stories, their purpose and their soul, and I fall for that shit every time.  Though I didn’t end up where I expected, maybe I was the better for it, able to appreciate the journey more, having tossed out the notion of a familiar destination.




0 Comments on “the stone gods by jeanette winterson

  1. ooh good review. i remember having a hard time deciding how to rate this. i love winterson, she is one of my absolute favorites, but something about this one was less cohesive & satisfying. like she was trying to write it instead of it just flowing out, which is how so many of her other novels feel. it’s been a bit since i read it, so i don’t remember if i noticed a big disconnect between parts of the story, but that sounds right with the feeling i was left with.

  2. finn: I have been thinking of you the whole time that I have been writing and reading this, as you are the one who recommended it to me! Wee! And what you said: “like she was trying to write it instead of just flowing out”! That describes it perfectly!

  3. I had a similar experience with this book. I love Jeanette Winterson sooooo much – I often think she’s my favourite living author, but it’s so hard to stick to just one, isn’t it! But I didn’t get into The Stone Gods at all.

  4. Gillianne: Thanks for the tip! Awesome.

    Lady D: She is really frickin awesome isn’t she? I am on a bit of a Winterson binge right now. I’m reading Boating for Beginners at the moment. It’s pretty tasty. Have another four of her books waiting in line for after. I only read my first book of hers (Oranges are not the only fruit) last year. So exciting to discover a new favorite.

  5. Pingback: the year in books 2013 and a book-lover blog hop | click clack gorilla

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.