Sexing the Cherry

Sexing the Cherry

by Jeanette Winterson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802135780
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 08/10/1998
Series: Winterson, Jeanette
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 603,560
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

A novelist whose honours include England’s Whitbread Prize, and the American Academy’s E. M. Forster Award, as well as the Prix d’argent at the Cannes Film Festival, JEANETTE WINTERSON burst onto the literary scene as a very young woman in 1985 with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Her subsequent novels, including Sexing the Cherry, The Passion, Written on the Body, and The PowerBook, have also gone on to receive great international acclaim. She lives in London and the Cotswolds.

Read an Excerpt

My name is Jordan. This is the first thing I saw.

It was night, about a quarter to twelve, the sky divided in halves, one cloudy, the other fair. The clouds hung over the wood, there was no distance between them and the top of the trees. Where the sky was clear, over the river and the flat fields newly ploughed, the moon, almost full, shone out of a yellow aureole and reflected in the bow of the water. There were cattle in the field across, black against the slope of the hill, not moving, sleeping. One light, glittering from the only house, looked like the moat-light of a giant's castle. Tall trees flanked it. A horse ran loose in the courtyard, its hooves sparking the stone.

Then the fog came. The fog came from the river in thin spirals like spirits in a churchyard and thickened with the force of a genie from a bottle. The bulrushes were buried first, then the trunks of the trees, then the forks and the junctions. The top of the trees floated in the fog, making suspended islands for the birds.

The cattle were all drowned and the moat-light, like a lighthouse, appeared and vanished and vanished and appeared, cutting the air like a bright sword.

The fog came towards me and the sky that had been clear was covered up. It was bitterly cold, my hair was damp and I had no hand-warmer. I tried to find the path but all I found were hares with staring eyes, poised in the middle of the field and turned to stone. I began to walk with my hands stretched out in front of me, as do those troubled in sleep, and in this way, for the fist time, I traced the lineaments of my own face opposite me.

Every journey conceals another journey within its lines: the path nottaken and the forgotten angle. These are journeys I wish to record. Not the ones I made, but the ones I might have made, or perhaps did make in some other place or time. I could tell you the truth as you will find it in diaries and maps and log-books. I could faithfully describe all that I saw and heard and give you a travel book. You could follow it then, tracing those travels with your finger, putting red flags where I went.

For the Greeks, the hidden life demanded invisible ink. They wrote an ordinary letter and in between the lines set out another letter, written in milk. The document looked innocent enough until one who knew better sprinkled coal-dust over it. What the letter had been no longer mattered; what mattered was the life flaring up undetected...

till now.

I discovered that my own life was written invisibly, was squashed between the facts, was flying without me like the Twelve Dancing Princesses who shot from their window every night and returned home every morning with torn dresses and worn-out slippers and remembered nothing.

I resolved to set a watch on myself like a jealous father, trying to catch myself disappearing through a door just noticed in the wall. I knew I was being adulterous; that what I loved was not going on at home. I was giving myself the slip and walking through this world like a shadow. The longer I eluded myself the more obsessed I became with the thought of discovery. Occasionally, in company, someone would snap their fingers in front of my face and ask, 'Where are you?' For a long time I had no idea, but gradually I began to find evidence of the other life and gradually it appeared before me.

'Remember the rock from whence ye are hewn and the pit from whence ye are digged.'

My mother carved this on a medallion and hung it round my neck the day she found me in the slime by the river. I was wrapped up in a rotting sack such as kittens are drowned in, but my head was wedged uppermost against the bank. I heard dogs coming towards me and a roar in the water and a face as round as the moon with hair falling on either side bobbed over me. She scooped me up, she tied me between her breasts whose nipples stood out like walnuts. She took me home and kept me there with fifty dogs and no company of her own.

I had a name but I have forgotten it.

They call me the Dog-Woman and it will do. I call him Jordan and it will do. He has no other name before or after. What was there to call him, fished as he was from the stinking Thames? A child can't be called Thames, no and not Nile either, for all his likeness to Moses. But I wanted to give him a river name, a name not bound to anything, just as the waters aren't bound to anything. When a woman gives birth her waters break and she pours out the child and the child runs free. I would have liked to pour out a child from my body but you have to have a man for that and there's no man who's a match for me.

When Jordan was a baby he sat on top of me much as a fly rests on a hill of dung. And I nourished him as a hill of dung nourishes a fly, and when he had eaten his fill he left me.


I should have named him after a stagnant pond and then I could have kept him, but I named him after a river and in the flood-tide he slipped away.

When Jordan was three I took him to see a great rarity and that was my undoing. There was news that one Thomas Johnson had got himself an edible fruit of the like never seen in England. This Johnson, though he's been dead for twenty years now, was a herbalist by trade, though I'd say he was more than that. When a woman found herself too round for her liking and showing no blood by the moon, it was Johnson she visited with only a lantern for company. And when she came back all flat and smiling she said it was Mistletoe or Cat-nip or some such, but I say he sucked it out for the Devil.

Nevertheless, it being daylight and a crowd promised such as we see only for a dog and a bear. I took Jordan on a hound-lead and pushed my way through the gawpers and sinners until we got to the front and there was Johnson himself trying to charge money for a glimpse of the thing.

I lifted Jordan up and I told Johnson that if he didn't throw back his cloth and let us see this wonder I'd cram his face so hard into my breasts that he's wish he'd never been suckled by a woman, so truly would I smother him.

He starts humming and hawing and reaching for some coloured jar behind his head, and I thought, he'll not let no genie out on me with its forked tongue and balls like jewels, so I grabbed him and started to push him into my dress. He was soon coughing and crying because I haven't had that dress off in five years.

'Well, then,' I said, holding him back, the way you would a weasel. 'Where is this wonder?'

'God save me,' he cried, 'a moment for my smelling salts, dear lady.'

But I would have none of it and whipped off the cover myself, and I swear that what he had resembled nothing more than the private parts of an Oriental. It was yellow and livid and long.

'It is a banana, madam,' said the rogue.

A banana? What on God's good earth was a banana?

'Such a thing never grew in Paradise,' I said.

'Indeed it did, madam,' says he, all puffed up like a poison adder. 'This fruit is from the Island of Bermuda, which is closer to Paradise than you will ever be.'

He lifted it up above his head, and the crowd, seeing it for the first time, roared and nudged each other and demanded to know what poor fool had been so reduced as to sell his vitality.

'It's either painted or infected,' said I, 'for there's none such a colour that I know.'

Johnson shouted above the din as best he could...


At this there was unanimous retching. There was no good woman could put that to her mouth, and for a man it was the practice of cannibals. We had not gone to church all these years and been washed in the blood of Jesus only to eat ourselves up the way the Heathen do.

I pulled on the hound-lead in order to take Jordan away, but the lead came up in my hands. I ducked down into the shuffle of bare feet and torn stockings and a gentleman's buckle here and there. He was gone. My boy was gone. I let out a great bellow such as cattle do and would have gone on bellowing till Kingdom Come had not some sinner taken my ear and turned me to look under Johnson's devilish table.

I saw Jordan standing stock still. He was standing with both his arms upraised and staring at the banana above Johnson's head. I put my head next to his head and looked where he looked and I saw deep blue waters against a pale shore and trees whose branches sang with green and birds in fairground colours and an old man in a loin-cloth.

This was the first time Jordan set sail.

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Sexing the Cherry 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jeanette Winterson is one of the finest contemporary authors. This, her third book (unless you count Boating For Beginners), is the first real stretching for her. The narrative used in this book is original and fun, but also there are some meaty little things to think about here. If you've never read Jeanette Winterson's work, start with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and work forward (it's really cool to see her develop). If you've read other works by her, this is another great book to read!
aubreyfs on LibraryThing 24 days ago
A short, beautiful and philisophical book about time and love and identity. The setting is purposely evasive which is a little weird at first. It is supposedly 17th century England. "Language always betrays us, tells the truth when we want to lie, and dissolves into formlessness when we would most like to be precise." Winterson has such a great knack with language!
Laurenbdavis on LibraryThing 24 days ago
As part of my continuing preparation for reviewing Winterson's new book, "Why be Normal When You Could Be Happy", I've just finished this one. SEXING THE CHERRY is firmly in the post-modernist camp, as is all of Winterson's work, and although this is not a camp in which I'm generally comfortable, I have trouble resisting Winterson's work, since its so beautiful written. SEXING THE CHERRY mixes history and myth, and includes a lot of narrative sidesteps and digressions. It plays with time and the power of story, and the motifs of orphan and monster/mother are here, as they were (although more realistically) in ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT. In this novel, the narratives shift between seventeenth- and late-twentieth-century London and the world of fairy tale, which stands outside time.. The principal narrators Cherry are a seventeenth-century giantess called Dog-Woman and Jordan, her adopted son, whom she fished out of the river (here, too, we have similar religious overtones to ORANGES). Winterson explore questions of gender and sexual identity, as well as the power and limitations of story-telling. And as usual, she does it with sly wit and lovely prose.
dancingwaves on LibraryThing 24 days ago
Definitely *not* my favourite by her. Seemed forced. I would recommend Written on the Body rather than this one.
prestonll on LibraryThing 24 days ago
It was a hard to read book. It jumped around quite a bit.
mich_yms on LibraryThing 24 days ago
In Sexing the Cherry, Jordan is found floating in the River Thames. A large woman, known only as the Dog Woman, rescues baby Jordan, and brings him up like her own son. But Jordan, having been `born¿ of the river, belongs to the river, and it isn¿t long before the flowing waters reclaim him once again, as he sets of with sails to travel the world.The book is told with alternating narratives, first Jordan, then the mother, then Jordan again and so forth. But while the mother¿s narratives sound like actual accounts of what is truly happening in their world, the same can¿t be said for Jordan¿s narrative. Because you see, Jordan is a dreamer. His richest experiences are in his dreams, as he travels to places not yet known to him, but which he believes to perhaps truly exist.Having dreamt of a beautiful dancer once, he then sets off in search of this elusive character. Which brings him to meet the Twelve Dancing Princesses. They, who were supposed to have lived happily ever after with their twelve princes, are now living together as sisters once again. They each tell him their story, and each one of them as enchanting as the next. All very unpredictable.Towards the end of the book, we are introduced to another pair of characters, now in 1990. Nicholas Jordan is also a dreamer, someone who dreams of sailing and travelling the world, and to do so he decides he wants to join the army. During this time, he reads a newspaper article about a nameless woman who sits by a polluted river to draw attention and create awareness about what damage the world is suffering from.Her thoughts (I assume these are her thoughts and beliefs), having been molded into the story, read just as beautifully as fiction.
damsorrow on LibraryThing 24 days ago
Virginia Woolf's Orlando Grendel lots of bawdy sex and violence = another five star review for a book. I think my review clout might be shot if I don't read something I don't like soon.
Cariola on LibraryThing 24 days ago
This is the second book by Winterson that I've read, and it didn't leave me any more satisfied. I guess I'm just not into magical realism.
samantha464 on LibraryThing 24 days ago
This is not for the weak. A non-linear plot line that tells history as a series of circles, strange transistions that make no distinction between fantasy and reality, and characters who shift size, shape, appearance, and even lives like water make this small book anything but short. But for those who like fairly tale retellings and undeniably weird plot lines, its a great experience.
Medellia on LibraryThing 24 days ago
This was a really great book. Surreal, beautiful, full of myth and fairy tale. A story about time and matter and boundaries and the blurring thereof. The structure of the first large section of the book (the part set in the past) reminded me of the structure that the chapters tended to take in One Hundred Years of Solitude; by the end, it had cycled back to the events of the beginning, with a shift in perspective to another character. A magical little trick--I love it.
downstreamer on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Some beautiful writing, but no plot. It's the work of a young author, and it shows.
391 on LibraryThing 25 days ago
I love, love, LOVE Sexing the Cherry. It's funny and intriguing, and I think Winterson is one of the best storytellers today.
Intemerata on LibraryThing 29 days ago
I can't actually decide whether I liked this or not (I felt the same way about One Hundred Years of Solitude, so maybe it's a problem I have with magical realism). It's beautifully poetic, the characters are fascinating, and I liked the combination of a realistic 17th century setting with fantastical fairy-tale elements. On the other hand, I found it seemed to ramble a bit - I guess that's part of the point, with the theme of non-linear time, but I prefer books with more drive to the plot.
sunfi on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Somehow I must have missed something, this has to have been one of the worst little things I have ever read. The author does have a talent for the imaginative and the last section of the book "Some Years Later" was actually pretty entertaining. I have the bad habit of not being able to put down a book after starting it and having to read the whole thing. I started to do that with this one but I just couldn't do it, maybe one day I will break this bad habit. The only thing I did find redeeming about this book is that it was short and I didn't spend too much time on this one.
joe_chip on LibraryThing 29 days ago
this review will contain spoilers - i usually don¿t include spoilers, but i feel with this book its very hard to review it without addressing what happens in the latter half of the book. on the surface of it, the novel is about an enormous (and i do mean enormous, her skirt is big enough to be a ship¿s sail) and grotesque woman and her son living in 17th century england. the novel is set in an alternate history and has a lot of elements of magical realism, and is written somewhat in a stream of consciousness alternates between the first person narratives of the enormous woman and her son, jordan. the woman¿s narrative deals with the way she interacts with and is perceived by her community. jordan¿s narrative is mainly to do with his search - he is a restless character and is always searching for something, and as such often goes on long sea voyages. the two narratives read like ramblings, and for a long time didn¿t particularly lead anywhere. this is something i had a bit of a problem with. ramblings are difficult to pull off because obviously what usually drives a novel is a plot. ramblings can work if the characters are interesting or particularly well-written, or if one really enjoys the writer¿s use of language. i found the woman interesting, but not enough to sustain my interest in the novel; jordan i found quite boring - he was an oddly absent narrator. he was there, but he never really let the reader in, it felt. the same with the language - i enjoyed it, but it couldn¿t carry the novel for me.when this happens then the episodic nature of the narrative becomes even harder to handle - each chapter being an odd diary entry where we see what jordan or the giant get up to and learn their views on society and their philosophies on life. at first this was interesting, but after a few pages it became tiring. i kept on starting each chapter thinking ¿where is this heading?¿even though the book is short (only 144 pages) it is still very dense - so it took me quite a while to get through it. it doesn¿t help that i¿m a slow reader, and i think now that perhaps i should¿ve just read this in little installments. a chapter every day or so, on the loo or something (they¿re all very short) and not read it as a book (if you know what i mean). then i wouldn¿t have imposed a narrative upon it and enjoyed it purely for its language, as dark orpheus recommends. another reason why i struggled, is because i found the characters rather repulsive. i found it quite fun when the giant woman killed people and stuff, but underlying that is a deep melancholy and¿ something else. i don¿t know. she¿s a very coarse character. but¿ actually sympathetic, if truth be told. i think it was the tone of the novel (and her narrative) more. it was very heavy and negative. at one stage we have the plague and then the great fire of london and these aren¿t jolly moments. winterson¿s insight on these disasters is very deep, though, and as depressing as it is, her depiction of the great fire is one of the best parts of the book.all that i¿ve discussed up until now relates to the first 2/3ds of the book - in the last third, the book massively picked up. on jordan¿s travels he meets the 12 dancing princesses and learns of this world where people are flying about (they used to walk around on ropes connecting the houses and then, later, just started flying - i loved that place!) he chats to them a bit here and there, but by page 80 theres a stretch where each princess tells her story. most of them are about escaping their husbands that were enforced upon them.suddenly there was linear narrative and i loved it! i loved each princess¿ little story and i began to see what winterson¿s reputation was based on (well, from my perspective anyway). the only story we don¿t read is the story of the 12th princess - she is nowhere to be found. naturally jordan decides to go and find her, and eventually we learn her story.then, after that, something wacky and very cool happe
rachaelster on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I *heart* Jeanette Winterson, and this is a classic no one should miss.
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