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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Art and Lies

Jeanette Winterson

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To purchase Art and Lies

Title: Art and Lies
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994
Length: 206 pages
Availability: Art and Lies - US
Art and Lies - UK
Art and Lies - Canada
Art and Lies - India
Kunst und Lügen - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

A- : wild and woolly, somewhat pretentious in thought and language, but more than enough of interest

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 25/6/1994 Rebecca Gowers
The LA Times B- 23/4/1995 Rikki Ducornet
New Statesman B- 1/7/1994 Mary Scott
The NY Times Book Rev. D 26/3/1995 William H. Pritchard
San Francisco Chronicle . 19/3/1995 Jeanne DuPrau
TLS . 17/6/1994 Lorna Sage
Virginia Q. Rev. . Fall/1995 .

  Review Consensus:

  Most find it too pretentious and artsy.

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)he book's main strength lies in its gliding surface and broad movements. (...) Winterson writes well enough, enough of the time, for the reader to be drawn into the flow of the book despite its unpredictable current, and there are certain moments where, as she would say, her writing takes wing" - Rebecca Gowers, The Independent

  • "Art and Lies keeps to a peculiar territory somewhere between platitude and flashiness. Far too often it tells us things we know, dressed in mannered -- even fusty -- clothes, not the cosmic drag one might hope for. (...) When it is not inflated, the writing is often frivolous and strident, so that the cast of characters, if ruled by the moon, offer an uninspired lunacy: They are made to stand on soapboxes vaporing." - Rikki Ducornet, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(T)he one voice in which all the narrators speak eventually becomes dominant. It makes no pretence to being a fictional voice, it isn't very pleasant and it swiftly destroys the book's power." - Mary Scott, New Statesman

  • "Ms. Winterson's prolonged and steady infusions of poetry into her novel turn the medium gaseous." - William H. Pritchard, The New York Times Book Review

  • "But the reader must patch the plot together by picking out clues that are embedded, unchronologically, in what might be called a tapestry of words. Except that a tapestry presents a static picture, and what Winterson has created here has the quality of movement, more like the play of a great many shifting, shimmering lights. (...) At once playful and deeply serious, Winterson conjures up her alternate world with language that is bold and strange and often dazzlingly beautiful." - Jeanne DuPrau, San Francisco Chronicle

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Art and Lies centers around three figures with famous names; Handel, Picasso, and Sappho. Set in some modern-like time, Handel turns out to be a physician and while Picasso is a painter she is also a woman bearing little resemblance to her namesake. Thank god for the primacy of the written word: immortal Sappho is, indeed, immortal Sappho. It's an interesting set-up, at least.
       Alternating between these three narrators (and with the voice of an old book heard as well) the book presents their unusual lives. Handel used to be a priest, and has suffered greatly. Picasso suffered greatly in her youth and has escaped from her family. And like the other two Sappho doesn't really fit in this modern, insensitive age.
       This is very much a book about Art -- the One and All for Winterson (and good for her). It's hard to write a book about Art without sounding pretentious and preachy and while Winterson is better than most she can still sound sententious and serious far too much of the time. But we are suckers for her turn of phrase and her unusual inventions, and so we rather enjoy this sort of thing. A fair amount is oversimplified, but it still makes for a decent read.
       "There's no such thing as autobiography, there's only art and lies," Winterson famously writes here. It's a point of view -- certainly a good one for a writer to take. Her three lives certainly are all art and lies -- fair art and good lies, throughout.
        We were not bothered by the flowery poetry, though some may be. Winterson's distinctive style can seem terribly overblown and is certainly not to everyone's taste. We find it works. (Reading some irony into it helps -- though we suspect Winterson is dead serious most often.)
       It is not a straightforward narrative, but then it is a book with a big concept. It ends with several pages from Strauss' opera, Der Rosenkavalier. Bill Pritchard, in The New York Times Book Review, wrote that this was "either too clever or too perverse for words." We see it fitting into the concept.
       This is, indeed, a concept novel. Winterson tries for a lot, and she may not be entirely successful, but it's for the sake of Art, and like sports fans obsessed with their team we'll always cheer an honest book supportive of Art. We do think she is honest, though we acknowledge she may be misguided. Her arguments are not necessarily convincing, but they are enjoyable to follow.
       We do recommend the book -- but note that many critics were put off by it.

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Art and Lies: Reviews: Jeanette Winterson: Other books by Jeanette Winterson under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       British author Jeanette Winterson was born in 1959. She won the 1985 Whitbread Award for best first novel (for Oranges are not the only Fruit), the 1987 John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, and the 1989 E.M.Forster Award, among others.

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