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Written on the Body

Written on the Body

4.2 23
by Jeanette Winterson

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The most beguilingly seductive novel to date from the author of The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. Winterson chronicles the consuming affair between the narrator, who is given neither name nor gender, and the beloved, a complex and confused married woman. "At once a love story and a philosophical meditation."—New York Times Book Review.


The most beguilingly seductive novel to date from the author of The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. Winterson chronicles the consuming affair between the narrator, who is given neither name nor gender, and the beloved, a complex and confused married woman. "At once a love story and a philosophical meditation."—New York Times Book Review.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Winterson displays awe-inspiring control over her materials - over language - and a gift for the most searing insights into human nature." The Globe and Mail

"Fun, challenging, often astonishing." The Toronto Star

"Overall, the novel is a cleverly worked and lively meditation on finding love and being lovers, a book that leaves out neither the glory nor the limitations." The Kingston Whig-Standard

"More immediate and more accessible than anything Winterson has written before. The simple elegance of Written on the Body becomes the author's already impressive oeuvre wonderfully well." Calgary Herald

"Boldly explores that elusive language of love with characteristic versatility, wit and precision." The Gazette

"A gorgeous, intensely sensual novel that celebrates the most inescapable fact of human existence in all its beauty, pain and impermanence." The Vancouver Sun

"Winterson's writing, with all its vivid detail, startling intensity and aching intimacy, leaves an indelible impression." Now

"As well written as it is intelligent, as funny as it is compelling." Xtra!

"A hymn of praise to erotic passion...the book has an unforgettable virtuosity. Winterson is an exciting writer. She has literary talent of a high order." Victoria Glendinning, Vogue, UK

"An ambitious work, at once a love story and a philosophical meditation...a work that is consistently revelatory about the phenomenon of love. Winterson has been compared to an unlikely pantheon of literary figures from Flannery O'Connor through Gabriel García Márquez...The hyperbole seems not only imprecise; it obscures the originality of her voice, her distinctive mix of romanticism and irony, erudition and passion." New York Times Book Review

"A comedy that delves deeply into our most sacred desires. A tragedy that reads like a playful narrative." San Francisco Chronicle

"The best evidence yet to [support] Gore Vidal's oft-quoted declaration that Winterson is 'the most interesting young writer I have read in twenty years'. She has once again proved to be a storyteller of compelling interest and exceptional grace." The Atlantic

"Moving and compassionate, a love letter as much as a love story." Harper's Bazaar

"The most highly esteemed writer of her generation." The Guardian

"Many consider her to be the best living writer in this language....In her hands, words are fluid, radiant, humming." The Evening Standard

"Often very funny, like a stand-up comic turn...Winterson, with characteristic and endearing effrontery, wants to take all the tired old language and make it new." —The Observer (UK)

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage International Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

The interesting thing about a knot is its formal complexity. Even the simplest pedigree knot, the trefoil, with its three roughly symmetrical lobes, has mathematical as well as artistic beauty. For the religious, Kind Solomon's knot is said to embody the essence of all knowledge. For carpet makers and cloth weavers all over the world, the challenge of the knot lies in the rules of its surprises. Knots can change but they must be well-behaved. An informal knot is a messy knot.

Louise and I were held by a single loop of love. The cord passing round our bodies had no sharp twists or sinister turns. Our wrists were not tied and there was no noose about our necks. In Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries a favourite sport was to fasten two fighters together with a strong rope and let them beat each other to death. Often it was death because the loser couldn't back off and the victor rarely spared him. The victor kept the rope and tied a knot in it. He had only to swing it through the streets to terrify money from passers-by.

I don't want to be your sport nor you to be mine. I don't want to punch you for the pleasure of it, tangling the clear lines that bind us, forcing you to your knees, dragging you up again. The public face of a life in chaos. I want the hoop around our hearts to be a guide not a terror. I don't want to pull you tighter than you can bear. I don't want the lines to slacken either, the thread paying out over the side, enough rope to hang ourselves.

I was sitting in the library writing this to Louise, looking at a facsimile of an illuminated manuscript, the first letter a huge L. The L woven into shapes of birds and angels that slid between the pen lines. The letter was a maze. On the outside, at the top of the L, stood a pilgrim in hat and habit. At the heart of the letter, which had been formed to make a rectangle out of the double of itself, was the Lamb of God. How would the pilgrim try through the maze, the maze so simple to angels and birds? I tried to fathom the path for a long time but I was caught at dead ends by beaming serpents. I gave up and shut the book, forgetting that the first word had been Love.

In the weeks that followed Louise and I were together as much as we could be. She was careful with Elgin, I was careful with both of them. The carefulness was wearing us out.

One night, after a seafood lasagne and a bottle of champagne we made love so vigorously that the Lady's Occasional was driven across the floor by the turbine of our lust. We began by the window and ended by the door. It's well-known that molluscs are aphrodisiac, Casanova ate his mussels raw before pleasuring a lady but then he also believed in the stimulating powers of hot chocolate.

Articulacy of fingers, the language of the deaf and dumb, signing on the body body longing. Who taught you to write in blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons? You have scored your name into my shoulders, referenced me with your mark. The pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap a message on to my skin, tap meaning into my body. Your morse code interferes with my heart beat. I had a steady heart before I met you, I relied upon it, it had seen active service and grown strong. Now you alter its pace with your own rhythm, you play upon me, drumming me taut.

Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights; the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes. Never unfold too much, tell the whole story. I didn't know that Louise would have reading hands. She has translated me into her own book.

We tried to be quiet for Elgin's sake. He had arranged to be out but Louise thought he was at home. In silence and in darkness we loved each other and as I traced her bones with my palm I wondered what time would do to skin that was so new to me. Could I ever feel any less for this body? Why does ardour pass? Time that withers you will wither me. We will fall like ripe fruit and roll down the grass together. Dear friend, let me lie beside you watching the clouds until the earth covers us and we are gone.

Elgin was at breakfast the following morning. This was a shock. He was as pale as his shirt. Louise slid into her place at the foot of the long table. I took up a neutral position about half way. I buttered a slice of toast and bit. The noise vibrated the table. Elgin winced.

'Do you have to make so much noise?'

'Sorry Elgin,' I said, spattering the cloth with crumbs.

Louise passed me the teapot and smiled.

'What are you so happy about?' said Elgin. 'You didn't get any sleep either.'

'You told me you were away until today,' said Louise quietly.

'I came home. It's my house. I paid for it.'

'It's our house and I told you we'd be here last night.'

'I might as well have slept in a brothel.'

'I thought that's what you were doing,' said Louise.

Elgin got up and threw his napkin on the table. 'I'm exhausted but I'm going to work. Lives depend on my work and because of you I shall not be at my best today. You might think of yourself as a murderer.'

'I might but I shan't,' said Louise.

We heard Elgin clatter his mountain bike out of the hall. Through the basement window I saw him strap on his pink helmet. He liked cycling, he thought it was good for his heart.
Louise was lost in thought. I drank two cups of tea, washed up and was thinking of going home when she put her arms around me from behind and rested her chin on my shoulder.

'This isn't working,' she said.

Meet 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.

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Written on the Body 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Winterson tells an amazing love story between a married woman and her lover. But who is her lover? An un-gendered person tells the story of their love easy enough for either interpretation. A professor once told me that she reads the book once a year, taking from it something different each time.
PhoenixRisingFTM More than 1 year ago
I first read this book in 1998 and was stunned by the beauty Winterson weaves with her words. I had never before read an author like her, and still have found no one comparable. This book captured me instantly and I have re-read it countless times. In fact, my wife and I just got tattoos from this book. Mine reads, "In the heat of her hands I thought, This is the campfire that mocks the sun." and hers reads, "I will hold onto this pulse against other rhythms." Brilliant!
away-she-flew More than 1 year ago
This book was written absolutely beautifully. The sensuality of the affair between the narrator and his/her lover is extraordinary, and the way Winterson describes it puts you in the room with them. The narrator being genderless makes it easy to relate to any audience. The first section of the book acts as a way to get familiar with the narrator, and the reader is right there with him/her the whole way. I especially enjoyed the second section, when the narrator goes through his/her lover's body part-by-part, mixing medical anatomy with poetry. Takes your breath away. Highly recommend to anyone who enjoys reading a true love story without all of the foolish gushing; you will be on the edge of your seat to the very end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wasn't familiar with her work before I read this book. So I just figured the narrator was a man. When I told my older sister what I thought she corrected me saying the character was a woman. Making me feel like a fool. Later when I told my younger sister about this she brought back to my attention the person having no name or gender. And thank goodness because now I know it can go either way. At least I'm open minded to that fact. When I discussed it again with my older sister she refused to see it any other way and got defensive. But the writing is so beautiful. It's incredible this love they had for each other.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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BrandyAlexanderr More than 1 year ago
No exaggeration, this book is fabulous. I can see how it isn't for everyone, but if you are a hopeless romantic and believe in the power of love, read this. The writing style is so unigue, as is the androgynous narrator. The fact that you don't know whether they're male or female is so intruguing and makes everyone interpret this book differently. There were a few slow points, but the overall beauty of this book cannot go ignored.
tamesthetic More than 1 year ago
I prefer her other book The Passion for the deep inquiry into love although this is a better story. I think the author writes a poem and broadens it into a short novella. Her words and ideas are beautiful - I wish she would delve a little deeper into character but she wastes little time on character pasts and gets to the heart of the matter quickly. There is no doubt that her books leave your breathless and your mind wonders back and forth to the questions and you try to answer them for yourself while you're in the shower. I love her prose and style.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I get the sense that the protagonist in this love poem is the writer. Her voice speaks to many but her heart has a direct line to the others before her who know exactly what she is talking about. Woman to woman. We have been there, have lived her images clearly. I agree with fellow reviewer who stated (she) underlined certain passages. I also have dogearred the pages to return to, to digest further. A must read for anyone who has fallen in and out of 'love' and has truly loved.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you've never read Winterson's work, you're in for a treat. "Written on the Body" reads like a beautiful love poem. Savor every word.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Written on the Body' is an excellent novel that puts the emotions that come with being in love down on paper for the readers to marvel at over and over again. The story is told to us by a person who has no name, no gender, no age, ...nothing tangible. The narrator tells us about a passionate love affair they have with Louise, a breathtakingly beautiful woman with striking red hair. Louise is married to a stuffy medical researcher/scientist named Elgin. The narrator describes for us in literary detail the love they have for Louise. Reading this, one feels as if they know exactly how the narrator feels and what it's like to love someone with every once of one's being and to care for someone with every ounce of strength. Jeanette Winterson does a superb job of presenting the story in a way that's imaginative and compelling by using effective imagery, sharp wit and astute observations.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first book that from the moment I picked it up, I read it in its entirety without break for four hours until I completed the novel. Winterson's writing prose is beguiling. You will be affected by her words no matter if you have been in love or not, it is without question, an outstanding novel and I have recommeneded it to men and women and purchased several copies for friends of mine as a gift. Winterson is truly masterful in her style and you will be addicted within the first 15 pages or less!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is one of my favorites and i recommend it to everyone. Winterson's narrator hits every question we ask ourselves when we love. I cried numerous times through out the book and it moved me like no other piece of literature ever has. The way Winterson describes emotions and thoughts is outstanding and does it which such a poetic form of language. When i finished it, i did not want it to end and this is the only book i have ever wanted to begin just after finishing it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The style is obnoxious. I could not care about the characters because they were adulterors with STD's. My entire book club hated it so badly we all burned our copies. If you really think you will like this book then at least go to the store and read the first few pages and then decide.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I cannot fully describe how dull and trite this book is. To read it is akin to slicing oneself with razors or failing to soothe a sunburn. It is unnecessary suffering and tedium. Avoid it at all costs.