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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Stone Gods

Jeanette Winterson

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To purchase The Stone Gods

Title: The Stone Gods
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007
Length: 207 pages
Availability: The Stone Gods - US
The Stone Gods - UK
The Stone Gods - Canada
The Stone Gods - India
Die steinernen Götter - Deutschland
Gli dei di pietra - Italia

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Our Assessment:

B+ : creative and appealing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 26/11/2007 Fiona Capp
The Guardian B 22/9/2007 Ursula K. Le Guin
The Independent B- 12/10/2007 Matt Thorne
The LA Times . 31/3/2008 Kai Maristed
New Statesman . 27/9/2007 Stephanie Merritt
The NY Times Book Rev. . 30/3/2008 Susann Cokal
The Observer . 30/9/2007 Tim Adams
Sunday Times A- 7/10/2007 Andrew Holgate
The Telegraph . 29/9/2007 Ed Lake
The Telegraph . 4/10/2007 Jane Shilling
The Times . 22/9/2007 Matthew Dennison

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, but most are generally impressed by at least some aspects of it

  From the Reviews:
  • "All the hallmarks of her style are here - the showmanship, the imaginative daring, the playful speculation, the humour -- but put to work in the service of a scenario that feels all too real and plausible. (…) The degree of urgency and prophetic angst in the writing is a reminder of Winterson's evangelical origins, explored in her first novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, and her familiarity with the idea of apocalypse. (…) The Stone Gods doesn't offer the conventional narrative satisfactions and rich characterisation of Oranges and The Passion but, after a string of rather self-consciously portentous romances, she has rediscovered her form and a sense of purpose." - Fiona Capp, The Age

  • "So, yes, we are near Borges country. And beyond that, it's hard to discuss the story without entirely giving away the central conceit, which Winterson develops teasingly, gradually. Delayed revelation is an essential effect in the book, and I don't want to spoil it. But, since there are some apparently arbitrary initial confusions, I want to assure other readers that it does all add up. (…) At times Winterson seems to think that poetical invention excuses fictional implausibility or incoherence. (…) Still, despite the gaspy bits, the purple bits, and the lectures, The Stone Gods is a vivid, cautionary tale -- or, more precisely, a keen lament for our irremediably incautious species." - Ursula K. Le Guin, The Guardian

  • "The Stone Gods reveals her at her most uneven. It alternates brilliant ideas with foolish ones, predicting a future at times utterly convincing, at others about as considered as a 12-year-old's essay on what we'll all be doing in the year 2050. (…) Ultimately, The Stone Gods neither satisfies as science fiction nor as a literary novel that does anything new with genre. Nevertheless, it is the first Winterson novel to surprise in many years, and may yet win her deserved attention from new readers outside her committed circle of fans." - Matt Thorne, The Independent

  • "Still, when the connection among the three narratives finally dovetails, and what once flickered as an early suspicion blooms to certainty, the sense of closure is both chilling and fulfilling. Some novels are intriguing enough to shorten a plane trip; some even offer a trip into other people's skins and minds. And then there is this kind of book, one that you don't so much read as drink in, refuse to put down, cast inside of like a hunting dog, seeking against all odds the insight that will illuminate everything, a true answer to the fix we're in." - Kai Maristed, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The Stone Gods is a Borgesian parable about history and repetition and a liberal's cri de Coeur about what we have done and go on doing to ourselves. (…) But it is more than this; it is also a parable about love. (…) The Stone Gods is a dazzling feat of storytelling that travels from the personal to the political and on towards the infinite." - Stephanie Merritt, New Statesman

  • "Jeanette Winterson’s new novel, makes an excellent choice for desert-planet reading -- scary, beautiful, witty and wistful by turns, dipping into the known past as it explores potential futures. (…) It is when the characters truly engage with one another, rather than with their own ideas, that Winterson’s story transcends the established facts and common fantasies; it becomes art, and thus makes its case most powerfully. This is, I think, her point: we grow more through feeling than through intellect." - Susann Cokal, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Her blunt satire takes on some obvious targets, the modern tyrannies of parking meters and cosmetic surgery and corporate autocracy for a start, but her attempts at making a Ballard-style dystopia are never really convincing. The novel, like much of Winterson's recent writing, asks to be read as a powerfully felt eco-treatise as much as a piece of fiction -- until, that is, her sudden personal intervention takes it somewhere else entirely." - Tim Adams, The Observer

  • "In fact, quite against expectation, Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods is a remarkably engaging and involving read. The novel may be loosely, almost slackly structured; it may jag about in time and space so much that it sometimes seems like a collection of carelessly linked short stories rather than a novel; it may, too, be overdidactic and often oversentimental; but these faults -- all bear traps into which Winterson regularly falls -- are amply compensated for here by the playfulness, stylistic brio, ambition and sheer imaginative vim with which the author approaches her task. Winterson may dislike science fiction, but it clearly offers her the elbowroom she needs. (…) If all this sounds a bit hit and miss, then it is. But the sheer energy on display, the versatility and the abundant good humour, allow Winterson, almost against the odds, to achieve imaginative lift-off." - Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times

  • "Nobody could call it a documentary: it's as gauzy and game-playing as anything she has done, full of queasy shifts and Escher-like trick perspectives. Yet it does come rather close to polemic. In disordered fragments, Winterson discloses a vision of nuclear jihad, corporate kleptocracy and ecological disaster. (…) Viewed as argument, the kindest thing you could say is that it has its heart in roughly the right place. (…) (A)s an act of political engagement, The Stone Gods looks like an own goal. On the other hand, it is certainly her most engrossing and adventurous novel in some years: the pressures of the times do seem to have galvanised her imagination." - Ed Lake, The Telegraph

  • "The Stone Gods is as full of ideas as a Catherine Wheel of sparks. The story whirs around its looping trajectory, emitting notions, quibbles, quirks, fantasies, glittering fragments of invention that fizz and pop as they fly into the darkness. (…) The embroidery is ravishing, but the canvas on which it is stitched seems disconcertingly familiar. It is as though Winterson is trapped in a thematic orbit from which all her dazzling powers of invention are not quite sufficient to propel her." - Jane Shilling, The Telegraph

  • "In the novel’s rich dough, the horrors of environmental meltdown are leavened by an interspecies romance in which a robot seduces her handler, and a lament for the beauty of the natural world. Amid the imaginative high-jumps of sci-fi fantasy is a Blakean panegyric to nature written in lilting, beautiful, crisply modulated prose that will delight Winterson’s faithful. (…) The Stone Gods is a playful but impassioned novel. Winterson cloaks her disillusionment with our political excesses in a sustained imaginative jeu d’esprit. Her writing is funny and beautiful. It cocoons the novel’s dark heart" - Matthew Dennison, The Times

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:

       The Stone Gods is a four-part novel, with cleverly overlapping sections of the quest for new (and old) worlds. It is alternate history and science fiction, looking ahead -- and back. The central character is one (or several) Billie (Crusoe) who, in the first section, lives in a world near collapse:

     'Orbus has a projected remaining lifespan of around fifty years. The planet will continue, of course, but it will no longer be hospitable to life as we know it.
       The plan is to colonize a new, pristine planet -- and do things right this time. And Billie finds herself being nudged -- very forcefully -- to participate in a trip to this Planet Blue. However, there are still a few things that are going have to be fixed over there if it is to be made habitable for human beings. Like getting rid of those pesky dinosaurs .....
       Artificial Intelligence is already well-advanced on Orbus, and one specimen of rapidly evolving Robo sapiens, Spike, also goes along for the ride -- and makes quite a connexion with Billie. But even (or especially ?) with more advanced technology things don't go exactly as planned: so with the robots, so with the attempt to make Planet Blue more conducive to human settlement.
       The Stone Gods is a contemporary critique and a warning of consequences, as Winterson paints some nice dystopian pictures grounded solidly in contemporary terrestrial realities and plausible futures. Corporate dominance, an economy based on rental rather than ownership, technology which allows one to be 'fixed' so that one doesn't age any longer, and those adapting robot-machines: Winterson spins the sci-fi elements like a pro. But, of course, what can't be missing is the very basic human elements -- and so her Billie can't completely embrace technology and still uses things as ridiculously old-fashioned as a pencil and notebook, and lives on a farm. And, of course, there's that most basic, human thing of all, which the romantic in Winterson can't do without: love.
       No one else seems to realise it (except Billie's unlikely partner, Spike), but:
     Every second the Universe divides into possibilities and most of those possibilities never happen. It is not a uni-verse -- there is more than one reading. The story won't stop, can't stop, it goes on telling itself, waiting for an intervention that changes what will happen next.
     Love is an intervention.
       And it's Winterson's favourite one. And there's something to be said for love -- for this type of singular passion Winterson favours -- being an intervention in a story about what amounts to nothing less than the end (and the renewal) of civilisations. Focussed on individual fate, Winterson still manages to say a great deal about the worlds at large.
        Winterson also likes her quantum universe world view -- as Spike explains, it's: "neither random nor determined. It is potential at every second. All you can do is intervene." -- and she's an effective writer-god in spinning her circular story and yet also surprising with its ... interventions.
       The Stone Gods is a critique of contemporary ways and man's insistence on control and dominance, on taming worlds and imposing rigid systems. Things go wrong -- even the best laid plans of the the best scientific minds (so with the least plausible but essential plot turn, the intervention on Planet Blue) -- but much of these worlds is also disturbingly functional. The long-term outlook may not be so bright or pleasant, but for now, Winterson acknowledges, these systems work eerily well.
       There are, of course, scenes from out of bounds, the anarchic hinterlands that haven't been subjugated -- and there are the surprising figures that seem predestined (or programmed ...) to behave in specific and set ways yet transcend what would seem to be their inherent limitations.
       As so often in Winterson's books, The Stone Gods pulls in all different directions and offers everything from abstract philosophy and applied science to autobiographical variations and love stories. The book is stuffed with ideas and scenes, shifting all about. But Winterson's control is sure enough that the apparent tangents and asides are convincingly held together by the underlying story: straightforward it isn't, but it works quite well.
       Winterson can get carried away by some ideas and expressions, and The Stone Gods feels, in part, pulled in too many directions. But there's a great deal here that is worthwhile, and it is a fun, wild ride.

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The Stone Gods: Reviews: Jeanette Winterson: Other books by Jeanette Winterson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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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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© 2008-2012 the complete review

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