At a time when many publishers expect literary novels to have the relentless forward motion of an Indiana Jones movie, Ms. Winterson refuses to shift into narrative drive; eschewing the Interstate, she favors the bumpy, meandering byways of interior landscapes. At every turn, furthermore, her fresh, vivid way of putting things stops one dead in admiration. ''In 1959,'' Alice recalls, her successful father ''was in the fullness of his present,'' having seen that the key to success was to ''pan the living clay that you are and find gold in it.''
Tanglewreck prefers a more straightforward idiom. Modern-day London is apparently being struck by phenomena called time tornadoes, in which evidence of times past are momentarily glimpsed - a woolly mammoth walks the streets, Roman chariots gallop on the surface of the Thames - and then any person or thing in its path is swallowed up, never to be heard from again. Take this description:
Then, from downstream, there was a sudden terrible crack, like the sky breaking.
I guess if we are going to make a so-called rip in time, let's be done with it. Or this:
Abel Darkwater knew that all time is always present, but buried layer by layer under what people call Now. Today lies on top of yesterday, and yesterday lies on top of the day before, and so on down the layers of history, until the layers are so thick that the voices underneath are muffled to whispers.
Ok then, all time exists right now but the other dimensions are buried just beneath the surface, or something like that. I'm not complaining exactly. Winterson is laying out the rules of her new and troubled world with clarity. I must say I do know where I am. But she is doing the job with a dispatch I did not expect. I'm so used to working for my supper when I read her books.
There is the obligatory hero or heroine on the verge of adolescence - in this case our heroine is Silver, 11 years old, parentless, and relegated to shoveling coals in the basement for her evil Aunt, Mrs. Rokabye. So far, I cannot get a grip on who Silver is, aside from the protoype Harry/Lyra with whom the young reader is supposed to identify. What I am enjoying is Winterson's villains. She has painted these characters and their badness in broad strokes.
Abel Darkwater was never late - unless he intended to be; and his watch was nevber wrong - unless he wanted it to be.
Some people are alwas short of time, but Abel Darkwater had all the time in the world - well, nearly all of it - and it was the nearly that was the problem, and the reason why he had come to Tanglewreck.
Or Mrs. Rokabye,
Mrs. Rokabye has a pet rabbit called Bigamist, on account of his habits. The house if full of small-scale Bigamists, so that wherever you go, there's a pair of yellow eyes watching you, and a black nose twitching, and an ear cocked at your business, and a scut just hiding under a chair as you come into a room. They're all her spies, but Bigamists is the worst. He tells her everything I do.Evil rabbits - that is definitely a touch I like.
Mrs Rokabye was standing at the low kitchen door, smiling. It was a horrible sight; the corners of her mouth were drawn up towards her eyebrows, and her eyebrows were pulled up towards the hairnet she always wore in the house. She had been practising smiling all morning, but it was not nearly for long enough...
I was hoping by page fifty to have a better idea who Silver is, not merely the function she fulfills and the circumstances in which she has been placed, but I guess I will have to be patient for a bit longer. What I will say is that midterms are two weeks away (already) and I need a comfort read alongside Middlemarch and my neuroscience stuff and this would seem to be it. Anyway, I promised Sheila I would read it. It does move along at a clip and I am enjoying the plot set-up, I am just disoriented by difference from Winterson's adult writing. Perhaps it's appropriate to a younger reader, although one might say it is pandering. I was looking forward to see how her interests as a writer would be adapted for a younger reader and they seem to have been merely abandoned. I feel like I came to see a unicorn, but whoever was showing the creature got afraid we'd be freaked out and dressed it in a donkey suit.
And as the fall progresses:
Jude the Obscure
Middlemarch (in progress)
Tanglewreck (in progress)
Among the Russians
Red Cavalry (in progress)
The Solitudes (started, don't know if I'll get through it)
Rhythms of the Brain
Neuroscience of Cognitive Development (in progress)
In the Land of No Right Angles