ART AND LIES by Jeanette Winterson


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 In what is more a brilliant if idiosyncratic colloquium than a conventional story, Winterson's symbolic protagonists discuss, opine, and reminisce as they travel together on a high-speed train. In chapters arranged like a musical composition (the frontispiece announces ``a piece for three voices and a bawd''), Winterson (Written on the Body, 1992, etc.) makes her three characters Handel, Picasso, and Sappho alternately recall their pasts, comment on art, history, and religion, and mourn their present condition. With the exception of Sappho, none of the characters are the same as their real-life counterparts: Handel likes music, but he's a former priest and currently a doctor; Picasso, a young woman who paints, has tried to commit suicide, having been sexually abused by her brother, and has been subsequently hospitalized. Meanwhile, the train and the journey itself are more symbolic than actual: Only fleeting references are made to the realities of travel and time as the characters move back and forth across the centuries. Discussions of art take center stage as Picasso observes that ``she could never be satisfied by approximation...either she was an artist or she was not''; Sappho admits she loves ``the deception of sand and sea...what appears is not what it is''; and Handel confesses ``I try to tell the truth, but the primitive diving-bell that I call my consciousness is a more fallible instrument than the cheap thermometer in my fish- tank.'' But more poignant are the personal confessions. Handel is particularly troubled by his past: He cut off the healthy breast of a prostitute, refused to perform an abortion on a raped woman, and had an unorthodox relationship with a Vatican cardinal. There is no triumphant end to the journey, only a few bleak epiphanies. Better in the parts than the whole, seeming more an excuse for a book than a book in itself.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-44181-6
Page count: 232pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995


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