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the Complete Review

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Jeanette Winterson
at the
complete review:


biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Biographical

Name: Jeanette WINTERSON
Nationality: Great Britain
Born: 27 August 1959
Awards: Whitbread Award for Best First Novel, 1985
John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, 1987
E. M. Forster Award, 1989

  • St. Catherine's College, Oxford, M.A. (1981)
  • Adopted as an infant by a Pentecostal evangelist working-class couple

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Bibliography

Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.

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Quotes

What others have to
say about
Jeanette Winterson:

  • "Like Scheherazade, Ms. Winterson possesses an ability to dazzle the reader by creating wondrous worlds in which the usual laws of plausibility are suspended. She possesses the ability to combine the biting satire of Swift with the ethereal magic of Garcia Marquez, the ability to reinvent old myths even as she creates new ones of her own." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times Book Review (27/4/1990)

  • "Her prose is exquisite, although, like the best sort of fruitcake, it's too rich to take much of at a sitting." - Michael Gorra, The New York Times Book Review, (29/4/1990)

  • "Ms. Winterson (...) has not suffered from a lack of critical acclaim. She received England's Whitbread Prize for the best first novel and has been compared to an unlikely pantheon of literary figures, from Flannery O'Connor through Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Italo Calvino, Milan Kundera and Virginia Woolf. The hyperbole seems not only imprecise; it obscures the originality of her voice, her distinctive mix of romanticism and irony, erudition and passion." - Jim Shepard, The New York Times Book Review (14/2/1993)

  • "(H)er recent public pronouncements raise the possibility that, like the now wholly faded Dame Edith Sitwell (who did her bit for magic poetic realism), Ms. Winterson may turn out to belong more to the history of publicity than of literature. Invited two years ago to name her favorite author writing in English, she chose herself (.....) She has admitted that she is the only true heir of Virginia Woolf and has been known to harass interviewers and reviewers who make a less enthusiastic assessment of her gift." - William H. Pritchard, The New York Times Book Review, (26/3/1995)

  • "Winterson sees herself as the fulfillment of Woolf's vision in A Room of One's Own, of the rebirth of "the dead poet who was Shakespeare's sister" (.....) You certainly can't accuse her of false modesty. She aligns herself with some of the heaviest hitters of this century, and sets out to boldly go where no one has gone before: "I do not write novels. The novel form is finished." (The statement makes me think of politicians who get elected to public office by promising they will do away with government and make themselves obsolete.)" - Kelleher Jewett, The Nation (12/2/1996)

  • "There is a sense in which Winterson's novels have become increasingly conservative. One wants her to break out. Instead of taking real risks with the language, she patterns and aphorises; instead of producing a new subjectivity, she dresses up old-fashioned realism with sentimental exoticism. While her plots fly off into magic, she clings to the stability of tart lessons and snappish maxims. (...) And yet it is her own novels that provide the high standards against which they can be seen to fail. To judge most other English writers as intensely -- that is, as innovators of language, form and character -- would be to obliterate them. Winterson is not obliterated, she is stubbornly uncancelled, and she will produce something of importance." - James Wood, The Guardian (2/1/1997)

  • "Although she still enjoys considerable fame, she has used it primarily in the last few years to make herself a figure of derision (.....) If these aberrations were, for some reason, genuinely necessary to keeping her confidence up and her talent intact, they would not matter in the end. Unfortunately, Winterson's writing has itself become steadily more impaired by her self-regard and insularity too." - David Sexton, The Spectator (4/1/1997)

  • "There are (...) local virtues in Winterson's writing, but the problem is that they never quite cohere into a compelling artistic whole." - Robert Alter, The New Republic (7/4/1997)

  • "Restlessly -- often brilliantly -- her taut, slender works meditate on time and matter, life and death, and the ways in which faith, art and love join modern science in pointing toward truth. For her, the novelist would appear to be at once preacher, researcher and lover, and the novel a combination chapel, lab and boudoir in which writer and reader struggle together toward a vision of ultimate meaning." - Bruce Bawer, The New York Times Book Review (11/5/1997)

  • "Although she is now nearing 40, she has somehow never shaken off the aura -- indeed she has cultivated it -- of the naughtiest girl in the school, the gifted pupil who drives her mentors to despair because she will not learn her lessons, will not keep the rules and above all will not stop showing off." - Ann Chisholm, The Observer (5/7/1998)

  • "Jeanette Winterson is not known for being an "easy read." In fact, she's one of our most complicated, confounding writers, the kind of old-fashioned fiction magician who can leave one wondering how she got from A to Z without once mentioning the intermediate letters of the alphabet." - Sarah Van Arsdale, San Francisco Chronicle (13/6/1999)

  • "Winterson's own stock has fallen badly over the past few years, to the point where a hostile critic can say that "Jeanette" and "Winterson" are the two funniest words in the English language. That is persecution rather than criticism, but it is still possible to approach her writing without malicious glee and find it unimpressive." - Phil Baker, The Sunday Times (27/8/2000)

  • "She divides like Moses and the Red Sea. Phoning round for context before I met her, I had never encountered such definitives: a sociopath, a seducer, fiercely loyal, impossibly demanding, a bitch, a blessing. For so many certainties, she must be a mystery. I was warned: she'll flirt, she'll charm, she'll give you what you want. So who did I meet? A brilliant child, compelling and easily bored, who one is moved to protect. A woman for whom self is absolute, keen and knowingly dissembling, who has found her place of safety behind the words. No comfort, no coward. She must be a bugger to love. She's probably worth it." - Libby Brooks, The Guardian (1/9/2000)

  • "(T)he here and now is never enough for Winterson; she cannot resist making metaphors out of molehills." - E.Jane Dickson, The Independent (2/9/2000)

  • "A rangy pirate, a world-swashbuckler, a plunderer of stories, literatures and hearts, with one foot in the sea and the other planted so firmly in England that her placeless, faceless fiction glints with facets of pure Englishness, the grandeur of Shakespeare, the absolutism of Lawrence, the stillness of Woolf, the traditional cocky farce of Chaucer and Carry On films. She can shift shape, self and time, she uses repetition as if it were spell-making. Everything she does suspends readers between the mind and the body, between "atom and dream". She is a kind of magician. She can do anything. She can even make the gay aesthetic mainstream - and this is no mean feat." - Ali Smith, The Scotsman (2/9/2000)

  • "Winterson has made a career of placing herself at the center of her text. She is fascinated by self-portraiture in other artists, or imaginative versions of the self made manifest in stories, music and paintings. (...) Her attempt to scrutinize herself encourages the reader to warm to her; she makes herself vulnerable to the story she places herself in, and she can be as hurt as anybody by the drama she is creating. It's one of the wellsprings of her strength as a writer." - Brian Bouldrey, San Francisco Chronicle (26/11/2000)

  • "One tends to approach contemporary Winterson with more than a hint of heart-sink. Her prose requires exhausting levels of reader input even as it bewitches, befuddles and features flights into the purple that rarely land on dry narrative again. However, Winterson's unique voice can't be underestimated: in full force, the originality of her lyrical gift is breathtaking." - Joanna Briscoe, The Guardian (8/5/2004)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

    Pros:
  • Generally a very fine stylist
  • Imaginative approaches, willing to take many risks
  • Does sex (and ambiguity) very well

    Cons:
  • Media focus on the person, not the art
  • Writing is occasionally too precious, arrogant, and coy
  • Often tries too hard to be clever
  • Same old tricks appear in many of her works

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the complete review's Opinion

     Bursting on the scene with Oranges are not the only Fruit Jeanette Winterson has long been seen as a writer of great promise. As to her actual accomplishments, the critics remain divided. Her strong persona casts a large shadow over the work, occasionally obscuring it -- a shame, because the work is almost always powerful, and often astonishingly good.
     Winterson's language is simple and lyrical, generally striking, occasionally beautiful. She cares about art and she cares about passion and she is very good at conveying both.
     Her tales and their ambiguous tellers can be too precocious and too convoluted, and she is not above (over)using hackneyed and simplistic expressions. Her dialogue is often too simple, with too few words (and these all too heavy with meaning). The writing can be precious -- and yet it can also shine.
     Winterson is a craftsman and an artist. She is passionate about her work, as is evident on near-every page. Occasionally she is too self-confident, blinded by (what she considers) her own brilliance. Some of the work is hit-or-miss, but the hits more than make up for the misses. At least she aims sky-high.
     An important author, and almost always worth reading.

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Links

Jeanette Winterson Jeanette Winterson's books at the complete review: See also:

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