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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Jeanette Winterson

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To purchase Weight

Title: Weight
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005
Length: 155 pages
Availability: Weight - US
Weight - UK
Weight - Canada
Weight - India
Die Last der Welt - Deutschland
La carga - España
  • The Myth of Atlas and Heracles
  • Part of The Myths-series

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Our Assessment:

B : the usual Winterson fare, quite well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 1/11/2005 Christopher Tayler
Entertainment Weekly A- 14/10/2005 Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
The Guardian . 29/10/2005 Mary Beard
Independent on Sunday B 27/11/2005 Catherine Taylor
New Statesman . 31/10/2005 Simon Goldhill
The NY Times Book Rev. B 11/12/2005 Caroline Alexander
The Observer . 23/10/2005 Peter Conrad
Sunday Telegraph . 30/10/2005 David Flusfeder
Sunday Times . 23/10/2005 Lucy Hughes-Hallett
TLS . 18/11/2005 Carolyne Larrington
The Washington Post C- 25/12/2005 Elizabeth Hand

  Review Consensus:

  Generally some reservations about at least parts of it

  From the Reviews:
  • "Winterson goes at the material with her customary mixture of grandiloquent prose-poetry and cutely deflationary, down-to-earth comic detail." - Christopher Tayler, Daily Telegraph

  • "While the story isn't new, Winterson's approach reminds us that there are endlessly original ways to tell it." - Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, Entertainment Weekly

  • "But too much of the book is written in that slightly mystical, stream-of-consciousness, verbless-sentence style that writers often fall for when they have great cultural universals and the well-springs of western thought in their sights." - Mary Beard, The Guardian

  • "Winterson's wordplay is as arch and baroque as ever, yet tends to lapse into autobiographical strutting and an over-reliance on the metaphor of responsibility. A whimsical ending trades dexterity for clumsiness and mars an otherwise controlled, enjoyably bawdy piece." - Catherine Taylor, Independent on Sunday

  • "The narrative of Hercules and Atlas is gradually intertwined with that of the author's own life. Their heroic struggles become ways of exploring Winterson's attempts to shift the burdens of her past and take control of her life." - Simon Goldhill, New Statesman

  • "Weight is marred somewhat by brief autobiographical pieces at the beginning and the end that are not integrated into the story. Still, this short novel fulfills a number of the criteria myth is meant to embody." - Caroline Alexander, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Jeanette Winterson (...) beautifully sympathises with the natal globe, whose mud, lava and fossilised corpses compress messages from our shared past." - Peter Conrad, The Observer

  • "Winterson's tale, for all its wit and intelligence, reduces the Atlas myth to a sort of whimsical autobiography" - David Flusfeder, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Their story, told with brio and plenty of jokes, is braided with reflections on choice and fate, on responsibility and freedom, on boundaries and desires. (...) Finally, a dog fired into space in a Soviet sputnik in 1957 brings on a happy ending suggesting that all you need is love, a surprisingly conventional conclusion for such an oddly formed and wayward-minded book." - Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Sunday Times

  • "There is some finely lyrical writing here (.....) Weight is one of Winterson's more accessible works; her habitual whimsy, insistence on the value of story-telling, her identification with the rebellious, thinking, feeling hero, and the confrontations with the Mother (and, once again, with Mrs Winterson), all recur in an arresting configuration." - Carolyne Larrington, Times Literary Supplement

  • "It's a poignant story (...) but despite occasional glints of humor, Weight is a leaden retelling of it. Only in its last pages does Winterson's book finally soar" - Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post

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:

       In Weight Jeanette Winterson retells the myths of Atlas and Heracles, and in her Introduction explains:

     Of course I wrote it directly out of my own situation. There is no other way.
       This first-person voice in her texts, the authorial intrusion, and the autobiographical details are familiar enough from her previous work. Here, too, she ties it in well enough with the mythical story, though perhaps more interesting is the point she makes repeatedly -- even just as she is beginning: "I want to tell the story again".
       Myths are constantly being retold and part of the fun of these well ingrained classical Greek stories, with their eternal fates and absolute certainty, is the possibility of twisting them into something new or different. Winterson doesn't fight fate too hard, staying close to the standard version of doomed-to-carry-the-weight-of-the-world-on-his-shoulders Atlas, as well as Heracles and his tasks, but she is tempted to consider: what if ... ?
       Winterson writes: "My girlfriend says I have an Atlas complex", and so it is an appropriate myth for her to tackle. Not surprisingly, she conveys Atlas' burden, the whole weight of the world, very well. Contrasting that with tricky Heracles -- who briefly takes over Atlas' duties, so that Atlas can do something for him in return -- works particularly well: the one almost static in accepting his fate, the other constantly scheming to deal with his (and, in the process, ultimately outwitting himself).
       Winterson also shows a nice touch with the small details she uses to embellish the story -- the Soviet cosmo-dog, Laika, circling the skies in 1957, for example -- and though the book is fairly short, manages to flesh out the characters well.
       The tension between fate and free will dominates the book, from her personal story to that of the mythical figures (and poor Laika). Winterson accepts the fate-ideas (and has Heracles succumb), but she does struggle against them -- and clearly isn't thrilled by the idea. Hence also the appeal of the freedom of creative writing: the ability to tell the story again (and, possibly, change it -- in the process defeating fate, at least on paper).
       Certainty -- as in fate, but even just as in knowledge -- troubles her. Among the interesting exchanges:
     'Anyone who plucks these apples will be like the gods, knowing past and future as though they were today.'
     'That would be a blessing for mankind.''
     'That would be a curse,' said Hera. Humankind continues in ignorance because knowledge destroys them. Everything man invents he soon turns to his own destruction
       The argument is overkill, and that's a small problem with Winterson's book -- as she tries a bit too much with the rich material at hand -- but it's still an appealing myth-variations, nicely done.

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Weight: 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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