New Year’s Reading Resolutions #12
Jeanette is not like other girls. She doesn’t attend school until forced by law, and until then is taught odd smatterings of knowledge by her fervently religious mother. She learns biology from the Bible and geography by following the progress of missionaries from reports on the radio. Active in the church and its touring campaigns of conversion, she is destined to be a missionary herself. Those plans receive a check when she comes to realise just how different she is: Jeanette likes other girls.
Her experimental relationship with best friend Melanie ends disastrously; Melanie, a committed convert, abandons her in favour of a church-sanctioned life and Jeanette is subjected to days of exorcism for her ‘demons’. Eventually she decides that if she cannot change she must leave; but she discovers that the past can never be completely left behind.
I might have made it sound more interesting than it actually was. Standing on the platform yesterday morning, I realised that if I wasn’t facing a long day with nothing else to read, I wouldn’t feel much inclination to continue. Not that I had any particular aversion to it; I just didn’t have any particular interest and could have quit without regret. I think it worked better as a portrait of religious oddity that as an actual story with plot, and I was after the latter. As it was, despite being set in the UK it reminded me somewhat of the documentary God on my Side. Unfortunately the book lacked the film’s train-wreck fascination (or perhaps it just lacked Andrew Denton). No: what was missing was any real sense of connection to the characters. And am I the only one who finds it a little weird when authors name main characters after themselves?
It also lacked coherence; I found it hard to gauge the passage of time and so couldn’t form a clear mental image of the protagonist (should I be picturing a child or a teenager?), and the book was littered with fragments of legends and fairy tales. Sometimes it was possible to see the relevance of these to the main plot, but sometimes not, and it could be jarring to be switched back and forth. But Winterson has a pleasant writing style with touches of humour and I would be willing to give her books another chance or two - but no more.