Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson


“Tell me a story, Pew.”
“What kind of story, Child?”
“A story with a happy ending.”
“There’s no such thing in all the world.”
“As a happy ending?”
“As an ending”.

Discovering writers that are truly worth your time come in various ways. Mine came in the form of a friend’s* constant urging to read this. A few months ago, she asked me to read this book and when I finally got hold of a copy, I dozed off at the 3rd chapter. Several books later, I picked it up again and it was lovelier the second time around. Without meaning to be too philosophical, I now understand why this is such. To a ‘square’ reader like me, (one who is used to reading information/stories in a set sequential line, i.e beginning, middle, end), an initial reaction to reading Lighthousekeeping would be that it is too ‘all over the place’. This is my second Winterson book, and now I can conclude that reading her stuff requires me (or any other ‘square’ reader) to transform into a more open and free flowing listener/reader of her stories. Its a material not for the hungry, as it should be taken slowly, much like taking sips of fine wine.
Its not much about the story, really. Silver is an orphaned girl who is put under the tutelage and care of Pew, a lighthousekeeper. The whole book is about storytelling, and stories within stories. There’s an abundance of intertextuality, every now and then taking reference from Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Darwin, Tristan and Isolde, and the nineteenth century clergyman Babel Dark.
Though you will not see the immediate connection, each story is incorporated like an aria, developed in tandem.
Rightfully described as “poetry disguised as a novel”, Im quite convinced that Winterson is the queen of beautiful metaphors. The most charming and bold, to me, is its opening paragraph

“…(my father) was crew on a fishing boat that harboured with us one night when the waves were crashing like dark glass. His splintered hull shored him for long enough to drop anchor inside my mother.”

The copy I have comes with a special interview feature at the end of the book, and I have to admit that I enjoyed that more than the book itself. She perfectly explained her concept of stortytelling/writing:

“Human beings love patterns. They love to see shapes and symmetries. We seem to have a need to impose order on our surroundings. For me though, the telling of stories is not about imposing an order, it’s about revealing an order which is implicit in a situation but perhaps well hidden. Writing can never be formulaic: it can never be done according to plan because it arises from a deeper part of the self which I think is less neurotic than the conscious mind and less afraid of not immediately having a shape to put on every new situation.”

It’s my first time to have read a bookat such a relaxed pace ( I always consume books with direct and straight attention), and I loved the change. Though I still prefer reading material with the usual ‘shapes and symmetries’, I find that I am liking Winterson in a slow and steady manner.

***For her birthday yesterday, I gave her The Powerbook. I also got a copy for myself.

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