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Art and Lies

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Handel is a failed priest but abiding Catholic with elitist tendencies whose work as a doctor forces him to consider social questions that he would probably rather avoid. Picasso, as she calls herself, is a young artist who has been sexually abused by her brother but whose family thinks she is at fault for her dark moods. Sappho is, indeed, Sappho, the lesbian poet of anci Handel is a failed priest but abiding Catholic with elitist tendencies whose work as a doctor forces him to consider social questions that he would probably rather avoid. Picasso, as she calls herself, is a young artist who has been sexually abused by her brother but whose family thinks she is at fault for her dark moods. Sappho is, indeed, Sappho, the lesbian poet of ancient Greece, who here proclaims herself a sensualist and then proceeds to dissect "the union of language and lust." The three converge in a place that may be England in a not-too-distant future made ugly by pollution and even uglier by greed. This is not a novel but an extended rift on art, sex, religion, social repression, the dangers of patriarchy, and everything that is wrong with the contemporary drift to the right. As such, it will be hard going for most readers, but those with some patience will discover exceptionally evocative writing and a vivifying review of some much-discussed contemporary issues.


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Handel is a failed priest but abiding Catholic with elitist tendencies whose work as a doctor forces him to consider social questions that he would probably rather avoid. Picasso, as she calls herself, is a young artist who has been sexually abused by her brother but whose family thinks she is at fault for her dark moods. Sappho is, indeed, Sappho, the lesbian poet of anci Handel is a failed priest but abiding Catholic with elitist tendencies whose work as a doctor forces him to consider social questions that he would probably rather avoid. Picasso, as she calls herself, is a young artist who has been sexually abused by her brother but whose family thinks she is at fault for her dark moods. Sappho is, indeed, Sappho, the lesbian poet of ancient Greece, who here proclaims herself a sensualist and then proceeds to dissect "the union of language and lust." The three converge in a place that may be England in a not-too-distant future made ugly by pollution and even uglier by greed. This is not a novel but an extended rift on art, sex, religion, social repression, the dangers of patriarchy, and everything that is wrong with the contemporary drift to the right. As such, it will be hard going for most readers, but those with some patience will discover exceptionally evocative writing and a vivifying review of some much-discussed contemporary issues.

30 review for Art and Lies

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    "The doctor said he could find nothing wrong. She was healthy, she had work, she came from a good family. Her heart beat was normal. Was it? Well, perhaps a little too fast. Heart attack. Had her heart attacked her? Her heart, trained at obedience classes from an early age? Her heart, well muzzled in public, taught to trot in line. Her heart, that knew the Ten Commandments, and obeyed a hundred more. Her disciplined dogged heart that would come when it was called and that never strained its leash "The doctor said he could find nothing wrong. She was healthy, she had work, she came from a good family. Her heart beat was normal. Was it? Well, perhaps a little too fast. Heart attack. Had her heart attacked her? Her heart, trained at obedience classes from an early age? Her heart, well muzzled in public, taught to trot in line. Her heart, that knew the Ten Commandments, and obeyed a hundred more. Her disciplined dogged heart that would come when it was called and that never strained its leash. Her heart, that secretly gnawed away it's body's bones. Her heart, too long kept famished now consumed her. Her heart turned. I saw her heart turning over and over through the somersaulted air. I saw her heart ignore its bounds and leap. It was her heart I pounded with both hands, my knees across her, my mouth that shouted "Live! Live!" This book is way beyond stars -- it is something else.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I couldn't help but read this slowly To let the words surround me and fill me I wanted to stay as long as possible within the pages Resist the urge to devour every sentence, every word, letter, and period Winterson has a way with words They are dark, and rich, and beautiful I wanted to live them, breathe them Swim in a sea of her words. I consumed the last word and now I am sad that it is over.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    Sex=Lies; Art=Transcendence (2012). Winterson, Jeanette. (1994). Art & Lies. New York:Vintage Idly, I picked up this book in a used book shop. The publisher’s blurb on the back said it was “…a daring novel that burns with phosphorescent prose on every page.” I thought, “Yeah, sure.” I opened the book at random and to my amazement, every page I read burned with phosphorescent prose. Is it a novel? Not in the Aristotelian sense. There is no plot, no storyline, no climax, no epiphany, no denoueme Sex=Lies; Art=Transcendence (2012). Winterson, Jeanette. (1994). Art & Lies. New York:Vintage Idly, I picked up this book in a used book shop. The publisher’s blurb on the back said it was “…a daring novel that burns with phosphorescent prose on every page.” I thought, “Yeah, sure.” I opened the book at random and to my amazement, every page I read burned with phosphorescent prose. Is it a novel? Not in the Aristotelian sense. There is no plot, no storyline, no climax, no epiphany, no denouement. But there is life-drama, mystery, strong characterization and beautiful language. In fact the work could be read as a series of extended prose-poems. Alternating chapters describe the lives of the three main characters, Handel, a physician-priest, Picasso, a young woman who paints, and Sappho, the pre-Socratic poet of sexuality. The three lives mildly intersect from time to time, unknown to the characters. A fourth, minor, enigmatic character who does not get her own chapters, is an aging prostitute searching for her boyfriend/john/pimp. All these characters are on a train, going to their future, fleeing their past. The train represents the arrow of time that moves each character through their lives. It’s not a real train and time is not real time. Sappho, the actual poet, represents herself, with a lifespan of 2000 years. Picasso is not Pablo, just a young woman with that moniker, and Handel is not the 18th century composer, just a guy named Handel, (Although the prostitute’s sought-after boyfriend is named Ruggerio, a character in one of the real Handel’s operas). In Handel’s life story, I had a sense of 19th century England, but other allusions, especially in Picasso’s story, place us at least in the 20th century. The location seems vaguely European (perhaps because there are more trains there). So: no fixed time or place. All the characters are fleeing themselves. Handel is trying to escape and forget a tragic surgical mistake in which he amputated the wrong breast in a botched mastectomy. That cost him his career. He’s also trying to escape his childhood, which involved long-term sexual abuse by a Catholic priest who nevertheless genuinely loved and educated him. Picasso, literally running away from home, flees a childhood of incest forced on her over the years by her brother, and a tyrannical, dismissive family, and attempted suicide. She seeks to lose herself in her painting but may be losing her mind. Sappho is the most difficult character. She resents that her poetry has been misunderstood or bowdlerized through the centuries. She claims to be a pure sexualist, not a romantic, not a metaphorical poet. “Say my name and you say sex,” she says. Sex alone is her topic, including its inevitable deceptions. She pontificates, beautifully, on the nature of art, despairs at the lack of passion in modern life, but it is not clear what her “mission” is, or from what, if anything, she flees. Her chapters are dreamlike. I should read this book again, two or three times. It is laden with allusions, historical, and inter-textual references. Alas, life is too short. Based on a single read, my thought is that the title reveals the controlling theme: Art and Lies. Those are the only two elements, that drive a life. The mundane, embodied life, is full of lies, lies mostly about sex. But the life of the flesh is transcended in art, which spiritually lifts one to another plane. The three biographies demonstrate this theme. In Sappho’s case, the argument that life is lies, is well made, less so the argument for art; except that, in the Sappho chapters, the lyrical language is so intense, it intoxicates the reader, proving in fact, not by telling, but by direct demonstration, that art lifts one above the plane of flesh. That’s a brilliant innovation. Here are samples, selected literally at random, of the kind of writing that drew me in: Handel: “I like to look at women. That is one of the reasons why I became a doctor. As a priest my contact is necessarily limited. I like to look at women; they undress before me with a shyness I find touching…When a woman chooses me above my numerous atheist colleagues we have an understanding straight away. I have done well, perhaps because a man with God inside him is still preferable to a man with only his breakfast inside him.” Picasso observes: "On the dark station platform, lit by cups of light, a guard paced his invisible cage. Twelve steps forward twelve steps back. He didn’t look up, he muttered in to a walkie-talkie, held so close to his upper lip that he might have been shaving. He should have been shaving. Picasso considered the guard; the pacing, the muttering, the unkempt face, the ill-fitting clothes. In aspect and manner he was no better than the average lunatic and yet he drew a salary and was competent to answer questions about trains.” Sappho prefers: “To carry white roses never red. White rose of purity white rose of desire. Purity of desire long past coal-hot, not the blushing body, but the flush-white bone. The bone flushed white through longing. The longing made pale by love. Love of flesh and love of the spirit in perilous communion at the altar-rail, the alter-rail, where all is changed and the bloody thorns become the platinum crown." The prostitute is described in third person: “Doll Sneerpiece was a woman, and like other women, she sieved time through her body. There was a residue of time always on her skin , and, as she got older, that residue thickened and stuck and could not be shaken off.”

  4. 5 out of 5

    Evan

    "Two things significantly distinguish human beings from other animals; an interest in the past and the possibility of language. Brought together they make a third: Art." Art & Lies is a book I don't quite understand. But there were choice quotes like the one above that kept me reading. The book is told through three characters eyes. Handel is a surgeon, ex priest. Picasso is a young painter who grew up in a very malignant environment, her brother molested, raped her repeatedly from when she w "Two things significantly distinguish human beings from other animals; an interest in the past and the possibility of language. Brought together they make a third: Art." Art & Lies is a book I don't quite understand. But there were choice quotes like the one above that kept me reading. The book is told through three characters eyes. Handel is a surgeon, ex priest. Picasso is a young painter who grew up in a very malignant environment, her brother molested, raped her repeatedly from when she was 9 on up. Her parents didn't believe her. Then there's Sappho. I hardly understood her parts in the book. The three of them are passengers on this train. The book tells a little bit of their histories. Their ways of thinking and recalling the past.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dave-O

    Jeanette Winterson's strong command of the language combined with a concise, confident direction make Art and Lies a pleasure to read. Filled with allegory and farcical situations reminiscent of Jean Genet and William S. Borroughs she tells of a sexually ambiguous surgeon named Handel; a mentally and physically molested woman artist named Picasso; and the poet Sappho who shares a train ride with the other two. What ensues is a history of each carefully developed character and how they intertwine Jeanette Winterson's strong command of the language combined with a concise, confident direction make Art and Lies a pleasure to read. Filled with allegory and farcical situations reminiscent of Jean Genet and William S. Borroughs she tells of a sexually ambiguous surgeon named Handel; a mentally and physically molested woman artist named Picasso; and the poet Sappho who shares a train ride with the other two. What ensues is a history of each carefully developed character and how they intertwine with the others, unbeknownst to themselves. In turn misconseptions of literature, art, sex, and poetry are placed on the slab to be dissected with each of their lives. Art, she says is not meant to reflect life; a life which cannot help but reflect our own escape from adolescence. Rather, art is a product of imagination which creates its own rules and laws. The conclusion is so satisfying I was disappointed only that Winterson's fantastic imagery and play of light, color, and depth had to come to and end.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Peter Chandler

    With such astonishingly lyrical writing, deep introspective musings and resounding cries for individualism this is a truly mesmerising book. I began thinking to try the first few pages and some endlessly astounding moments later I had finished and was strangely aware of how dark it suddenly had become outside! Jeanette Winterson's fantastic prose weaves exhilarating, arousing, inspiring and uplifting web that entirely entangles and lingers long after the end.

  7. 5 out of 5

    John Pistelli

    [Spoilers, disturbing ones at that, toward the end of this review.] My first encounter with Jeanette Winterson went badly. In college, I read Written on the Body and found it ludicrously overwritten, an imprecise prose poem wearing the guise of a novel, and poorly. I almost wish my Livejournal from that period of my life were still extant so I could quote from my bad review; I remember that it turned on mocking the line from the novel, “Your clavicle is both keyboard and key” (honestly, I still t [Spoilers, disturbing ones at that, toward the end of this review.] My first encounter with Jeanette Winterson went badly. In college, I read Written on the Body and found it ludicrously overwritten, an imprecise prose poem wearing the guise of a novel, and poorly. I almost wish my Livejournal from that period of my life were still extant so I could quote from my bad review; I remember that it turned on mocking the line from the novel, “Your clavicle is both keyboard and key” (honestly, I still think that is a stupid sentence). But something about Winterson lingered—her aestheticism, her daring, her egotism (a trait I find wholly lovable in writers and artists)—and I decided to revisit her work. I am glad I did, because Art and Lies could almost serve as an example of the kind of fiction I have been calling for in my more polemical essays (see here, here, and here). It is a completely invented novel, set in a dream-world of its own, rather than dwelling in the merely social or autobiographical. It is a completely written novel, composed in an elevated register that enlivens rather than transcribing common speech, even as it is an echo chamber for poetry. It is a completely traditional novel, alluding to Sappho, Ovid, Shakespeare, Sterne, Blake, Wordsworth, Pater, Eliot, Woolf, and Calvino on almost every page, its sentences sinuous hooks for the eyes of the canon. It is a completely radical novel, both formally as it reinvents what a novel can do and be, and politically as it mounts a thoroughgoing critique of modern society that is both coherent and independent (i.e., it does not merely repeat the cliches of Right or Left). It is also, alas, a somewhat didactic novel—more about this later. Art and Lies has three narrators: Handel, a Catholic surgeon who revisits in memory his moments of missed opportunity in love even as he laments the spiritual and physical state of modern London; Picasso, a female artist from a strict and sexually abusive household who has struggled to escape the physical and mental confines of her terrible family; and Sappho, the legendary poet, who seems to speak from beyond time, challenging the misrepresentations of her life and work, even as she wanders the streets of London. These three characters are distantly, tenuously united, and they come together as they board a train that seems to be headed to a symbolic sea (death or eternity). Interpolated throughout are passages from an eighteenth-century pornographic novel—their bawdiness and scatology function like the servants’ banter in Shakespeare, to let some of the air out of the novel before we are overcome by its poetic afflatus. All three main characters judge the present in one voice, a voice that occasionally overwhelms the fiction and threatens to turn this rather intricate literary construction into a political screed. Art and Lies is a strange political beast, though perhaps not as strange as it looks at first glance. Despite Winterson’s early vote for Margaret Thatcher, Art and Lies decisively repudiates Thatcherism, not least for its indifference or hostility toward the poor and the working class:Homelessness is illegal. In my city no one is homeless although there are an increasing number of criminals living on the street. It was smart to turn an abandoned class into a criminal class, sometimes people feel sorry for the down and outs, they never feel sorry for criminals, it has been a great stabilizer.But the novel is far more invested in an aesthetic critique of the postmodern west (itself a recapitulation of Eliot’s aesthetic critique of the modern west: “O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag”) as a time and place of wasted time and squandered artifice. All three of the voices in this novel denounce the artlessness of a society given over to money-making and cheap entertainment:In the country of the Blind the one-eyed man is King? But what of the articulate among the guttural? Once upon a time I would have been listened to with respect, now, I am regarded with suspicion, and for the wrong reason. I know that I am false; the irony is that the barkers and jabberers believe themselves genuine. As if to speak badly is to speak truly. As if to have no command of language must ensure a complete command of emotional sincerity. As if, as journalists and novelists would have me believe, to write without artifice is to write honestly. But language is artifice. The human being is artificial. None of us is Rousseau Man, that noble savage, honest and untrained. Better then to acknowledge that what we are is what we have been taught, that done, at least it will be possible to choose our own teacher. I know I am made up of other people's say so, veins of tradition, a particular kind of education, borrowed methods that have disguised themselves as personal habits. I know that what I am is quite the opposite of an individual. But if the parrot is to speak, let him be taught by a singing master. Parrot may not learn to sing but he will know what singing is. That is why I have tried to hide myself among the best; music, pictures, books, philosophy, theology, like Dante, my great teacher is dead. My alive friends privately consider me to be rather highbrow and stuffy, but we are all stuffed, stuffed with other people's ideas parading as our own. Stuffed with the idiocies of the daily paper and twenty-four-hour television.Winterson goes so far as to indict modern medicine: a central symbol of the novel is a state-of-the-art cancer hospital, which is being erected in a poor district of London. Cancer serves for Winterson as a symbol of bourgeois emotional repression and material superfluity, and its expensive treatment as another means for the middle classes to make and spend, make and spend, its money. (Yes, you could light London with the power generated by Susan Sontag as she spins in her grave.) But this Romantic assault on capitalist modernity, which is neither Left (too concerned about art and spirituality, too tragic in worldview) nor Right (too sympathetic to the poor and the colonized, too hostile to custom and religion), is a venerable tradition in British letters, encompassing Blake, Wordsworth, Carlyle, Ruskin, Pater, Woolf, Lawrence, and Eliot (if not, indeed, Shakespeare) before Winterson. And Winterson is easily able to reconcile her feminism and queer liberationism with this radically reactionary aesthetic because, in the person of Sappho, she persuasively identifies the artistic tradition itself with queerness and the feminine. Winterson’s polemic, in Handel’s voice, against the type of vernacular feminism that might now be labeled as Lean In feminism is quite timely:It’s our fault, men like me I mean, we’ve spent so long trumpeting the importance of all that we do that women believe in it and want to do it themselves. Look at me, I’m a very wealthy man, at the top of my profession, and I’m running away like a schoolboy because I can’t sit at my desk even for another day. I know that everything I am and everything I stand for is worthless. How to tell her that?While I have my qualms about aspects of this worldview—and sometimes Winterson’s personae go much too far (“Better to be a beggar on the Ganges than broken on the gilded wheel of the West,” says Sappho, without, I suspect, having consulted such a beggar)—I am more sympathetic to it than not, for better or worse. The question for literary criticism, though, is, “How didactic can a novel get before readers have a right to protest?” This novel was not very well-received when it was first published in 1994. Its reception seems to have been marred by a spuriously personal venom in the British press, but even in America, reviews were mixed to hostile. William H. Prichard:"Art & Lies," while it abandons novelistic constraints Ms. Winterson evidently feels are repressive, is saturated with echoes of Shakespeare and Blake and Wordsworth and T. S. Eliot (especially from "Four Quartets"). By contrast, Ms. Winterson's own efforts don't fare so well. "My belly was an unplowed field. Weeds had grown over my pubic hair. I was a nun among nettles," Picasso declares; Sappho exceeds her in visionary extravagance: "I am the petals double-borne, white points of love. I am the closed white hand that opens under the sun of you." "Shall I call your nipples hautboys? Shall I hide myself in the ombre of your throat?" Sappho asks rapturously, not staying for our reply. […] Ms. Winterson's prolonged and steady infusions of poetry into her novel turn the medium gaseous.And even Rikki Ducornet (“even” because she has many of the same virtues and vices as Winterson):…a book that has opened with motion and light and a clear ringing becomes within a few pages gravity bound with the author's good intentions--one must always be wary of good intentions. Just as do children, books suffer from pedantry, and "Art and Lies," wanting to cover all the issues of our age, from ecological devastation, rampant corruption, dysfunctional families, homophobia, abortion, incest and more begins to preach. So that although the book's structure is mutable and porous, it manages to be both opaque and tedious, and this from a writer of great capacity whose custom it is to juggle with fire.And this is all fair enough, even Pritchard’s political complaint about the book’s ideological excesses (Winterson’s portrayal of Picasso’s father and brother make Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” look like a masterpiece of subtlety). Sappho’s section, in particular, is full of the breathless prose-poetry that made me dislike Written on the Body. But when Winterson writes about Handel and Picasso, her prose becomes inventive and precise. It takes a true and a bold narrative gift to imagine the novel’s final section, in which we revisit with Handel his childhood romance with an older Cardinal who castrated him. This long and disturbing passage will have conservatives, feminists, and many if not most others hurling the book across the room (it did not bring a smile to my face either!), because Winterson, in her nostalgia for the aesthetic past, tells the terrible story without moral judgment; its outlandishness becomes plausible, its outrageousness delicate, as Winterson submerges herself and us in true otherness—not the fashionable otherness of commercial multiculturalism, in which self and other shop together, but the true otherness that even the most open-minded will want to denounce as mere barbarism. And maybe it is. But when Handel’s family finds out what has been going on and decisively ends his relationship with the Cardinal, the novel shockingly invites us to wonder, “Which cut did the harm? His or theirs?” What is worse—the mutilations of art and sex or the mutilations of a society hostile both to art and sex? That strikes me as a real question, a question you could spend your whole life trying to answer, and not a rhetorical one—which is what I mean when I say I want novels that deal with genuinely intractable and tragic quandaries rather than giving easy answers in the name of right-thinking. It occurs to me that another novel was published around the same time in the U.K. that was similarly experimental and similarly ill-received: Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled. Ishiguro’s novel is as bold as Winterson’s, and as complicatedly involved with the modernist tradition (though Ishiguro’s agon is with Dostoevsky and Kafka, whereas Winterson’s is with Woolf and Eliot). But The Unconsoled, as befits its title, totally undermines any Romantic ambition on the part of the artist to redeem society. Ishiguro’s artist cannot even redeem himself—but for all that, the novel says, art is worthwhile, a deep and private pleasure. These are two novels to read together, in dialogue with each other. They also illustrate the importance of going back to work that has been too hastily dismissed. When the fog of the present lifts in the future, the supposed masterpieces of the moment may be revealed as flimsy cardboard, while some of those books derogated by their first readers will stand out as figures of depth and substance. (By the way, say what you will about Winterson’s high style, but this is a novel you can learn new words from: retiary orphrey, epurate, aurum, and more.) In conclusion, it is time to look past the vagaries of Winterson’s reputation and even the datedness of this novel’s packaging—the cover of the edition I read looks (charmingly) like a 1990s cover for an alternative CD—and read this enchanting, disquieting, and exasperating novel. Not all of its risks are rewarded, but, as they say, better the interesting failure than the boring success.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Marc Nash

    The usual unsurpassed Winterson literary & lingual pyrotechnics and lyricism. Ideas of love, art, desire, history, big ideas dealt with in breathless fragments. The Handel and Picasso chapters were wondrous, the Sappho a bit more oblique and harder to grasp and therefore less satisfying. And the bawd, was well bawdy. Maybe just a bit too packed and breathless for my way of reading. One should probably bask in a couple of a pages at a time and go away and meditate on them before returning for The usual unsurpassed Winterson literary & lingual pyrotechnics and lyricism. Ideas of love, art, desire, history, big ideas dealt with in breathless fragments. The Handel and Picasso chapters were wondrous, the Sappho a bit more oblique and harder to grasp and therefore less satisfying. And the bawd, was well bawdy. Maybe just a bit too packed and breathless for my way of reading. One should probably bask in a couple of a pages at a time and go away and meditate on them before returning for another sumptuous nibbled feast of the next two pages.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    4.5 stars. I am growing more accustomed to Winterson's writing style, and it was this book that finally made me bow down and worship her as a master of the English language. Her prose is so smoothly woven that even when I didn't follow the "plot" of the story I was still mesmerized. That is her style, I realized-- for me to enjoy the journey rather than rush through to the destination. I won't even attempt a plot summary. "Art & Lies," for me, was more a series of vibrant, human vignettes on 4.5 stars. I am growing more accustomed to Winterson's writing style, and it was this book that finally made me bow down and worship her as a master of the English language. Her prose is so smoothly woven that even when I didn't follow the "plot" of the story I was still mesmerized. That is her style, I realized-- for me to enjoy the journey rather than rush through to the destination. I won't even attempt a plot summary. "Art & Lies," for me, was more a series of vibrant, human vignettes on personhood and art. This book reminded me strongly of Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities."

  10. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I don't know how to rate this...it was my first Winterson book. There were whole pages I wanted to cut out and paste on my wall. But there's also an entire musical score at the end, and lots of other strangeness. Not entirely sure what to make of it--but I will definitely read more JW.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    Brilliant! Another Winterson masterpiece! This novel doesn't quite read like a novel, but the prose is stunning, breath-takingly beautiful. I was enthralled through the entire book, couldn't read fast enough. It was an absolute joy to read.... again!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    I borrowed this book from the library branch 2 blocks from where I recently moved. What a treat to have that so close to home. Numerous times I nearly marched this book, which I found mostly befuddling, 2 blocks west to return to its place on the shelf. I had read Oranges Aren't The Only Fruit many years ago and had some recollection of Winterson's unique writing style, but Art and Lies left me in a fog most of the time I spent with it. But then! I'd come across a thought that I would wrap my mi I borrowed this book from the library branch 2 blocks from where I recently moved. What a treat to have that so close to home. Numerous times I nearly marched this book, which I found mostly befuddling, 2 blocks west to return to its place on the shelf. I had read Oranges Aren't The Only Fruit many years ago and had some recollection of Winterson's unique writing style, but Art and Lies left me in a fog most of the time I spent with it. But then! I'd come across a thought that I would wrap my mind around repeatedly. Here are a few examples. Politics of slums, apartments, mansions. The correct balance must be maintained. On no account should there be too many mansions or too few slums. Apartments hold the balance; the rich are terrified of being reduced to one, the poor dream of owning their own. The political city thrives on fear. Fear of never owning an apartment. Fear of owning only an apartment. Homelessness is illegal. In my city no-one is homeless although there are an increasing number of criminals living on the street. It was smart to turn an abandoned class in a criminal class, sometimes people feel sorry for down and outs, they never feel sorry for criminals… Everyone can see how useful romance is ... I am not a machine, there is only so much and no more that I can absorb of the misery of my kind, when my tears are exhausted a dullness takes their place, and out of that dullness a terrible callousness, so that I look on suffering and feel it not. She looked at her. Gunflint eyes, electric hair, voice that had a dash of pebbles in it. When she spoke, Picasso heard the sea crunching at the shore. (me: in this book Picasso was a woman, the other 2 characters were Handel, man, and Sappho, woman.)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kang-Chun Cheng

    first book by her. descriptions are astounding, i fell in love with her attentiveness to colour and light especially. a special intertwining of 3 tales, written with emotional sensitivity and daring. one of those books that upon finishing, i already feel like i need to read again.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lisanne

    This one lured me in with its beautiful, philosophical language and then crushed me to pieces. Art and Lies deals with a lot of heavy and dark themes and is therefore very hard to read at times. Nevertheless, the writing is so smooth and has such a pleasant flow that you want to read on, no matter the subject.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Saffron

    For me this read as a book of ideas, observations and feelings, written in a perfect poetic prose that I have loved through all Wintersons writing I have read so far. Yes, there are certainly enough shocking moments, incest and child abuse not ever an easy subject to tackle. It is however a part of life for some, pretending it doesn't happen is to tell the victims they are liars. And this I feel is the point. As children we expect adults to watch out for us, love us unconditionally and protect. E For me this read as a book of ideas, observations and feelings, written in a perfect poetic prose that I have loved through all Wintersons writing I have read so far. Yes, there are certainly enough shocking moments, incest and child abuse not ever an easy subject to tackle. It is however a part of life for some, pretending it doesn't happen is to tell the victims they are liars. And this I feel is the point. As children we expect adults to watch out for us, love us unconditionally and protect. Even though this was written in the early 1990s, it is relevant today. The scene is set in a near future to the published date, and it is scary how close these observations have become. 4.5*

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    “There’s no such thing as autobiography there’s only art and lies.” Alternating chapters describe the lives of the three main characters, Handel, a doctor-priest, Picasso, a young woman sexually molested by her brother who paints, and Sappho, the pre-Socratic poet of sexuality. Handel, the doctor, spent a lot of his career amputating cancerous breasts, and one fateful day cuts off the wrong breast of an ageing prostitute. He could have covered it up being part of an old boy network, cut off the ri “There’s no such thing as autobiography there’s only art and lies.” Alternating chapters describe the lives of the three main characters, Handel, a doctor-priest, Picasso, a young woman sexually molested by her brother who paints, and Sappho, the pre-Socratic poet of sexuality. Handel, the doctor, spent a lot of his career amputating cancerous breasts, and one fateful day cuts off the wrong breast of an ageing prostitute. He could have covered it up being part of an old boy network, cut off the right breast and suggested “complications”. “The old boy network” he used to call it and he was right, because we were old boys who had never made a success of growing up, and we were netted together, hopelessly, helplessly, forever. There is a lot of wisdom in the pages and characterisation but no cohesive story, it reads at times like a poem and there are episodes of stream of consciousness writing recalling Faulkner. The sun had dropped on to the roof of the train and bloodied the grey metal.

  17. 5 out of 5

    George

    This book switches back and forth between three different narrators -- Handel, a former priest and current surgeon, Picasso, a young woman from a wealthy family, and Sappho, the poet. (Well, technically, there is a fourth narrative, a book that is being read.) Each of the voices is distinctive, but, partly because of this, the book is uneven overall. I usually love the way Winterson writes, but I found her veering off a little too much here. The Handel sections are strong, and there is an intere This book switches back and forth between three different narrators -- Handel, a former priest and current surgeon, Picasso, a young woman from a wealthy family, and Sappho, the poet. (Well, technically, there is a fourth narrative, a book that is being read.) Each of the voices is distinctive, but, partly because of this, the book is uneven overall. I usually love the way Winterson writes, but I found her veering off a little too much here. The Handel sections are strong, and there is an interesting story to tell; similarly, the Picasso sections are emotionally and visually powerful. But the Sappho sections, for me, largely fall flat, and I found myself starting to lose focus as I read them, waiting impatiently to return to the other two. Fortunately, even those sections get better (which in this case means "more concrete and less rambling") as we head toward the end of the book. If you've never read Winterson before, this is not the place to start (I would argue for The Passion, which was the one I read first).

  18. 5 out of 5

    Yasmeen

    I feel like this book could have easily sucked. But it manages to really not. Three separate, loosely connected narratives interwoven by a fourth- it's hard to say what it's actually about. Which is obviously not an issue, but it's often hard to pull off just right so I'm extra impressed when it works. It feels like you're reading moments and thoughts that just casually drift together and make a really satisfying whole. The best part though is that it's beautiful- Winterson's writing is gorgeous I feel like this book could have easily sucked. But it manages to really not. Three separate, loosely connected narratives interwoven by a fourth- it's hard to say what it's actually about. Which is obviously not an issue, but it's often hard to pull off just right so I'm extra impressed when it works. It feels like you're reading moments and thoughts that just casually drift together and make a really satisfying whole. The best part though is that it's beautiful- Winterson's writing is gorgeous all over this thing. And it's worth reading based on that alone. Of course, it helps that the whole thing is infused with love of words (and other art forms) and how great they are.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    I've read several of Winterson's novels, and absolutely love her insight into the human condition. However, I found this novel particularly difficult to read. It is slightly too abstract, and although it contains many beautiful passages that seem to instinctively pinpoint universal experiences, it doesn't quite work as a whole. Obviously that is just my opinion, and perhaps my enjoyment would benefit from a second reading now that I've got my head around the crazy narrative. Definitely worth rea I've read several of Winterson's novels, and absolutely love her insight into the human condition. However, I found this novel particularly difficult to read. It is slightly too abstract, and although it contains many beautiful passages that seem to instinctively pinpoint universal experiences, it doesn't quite work as a whole. Obviously that is just my opinion, and perhaps my enjoyment would benefit from a second reading now that I've got my head around the crazy narrative. Definitely worth reading if you are a fan of Winterson's other work.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lewis

    I've given up. At about two-thirds of the way through this slim book, I just couldn't face carrying on. It's a shame, because I love Jeanette Winterson's other novels, but Art & Lies is so obtuse that it's practically unreadable. Halfway through the novel I had to look up what it was actually meant to be about because I still didn't have a clue - not a good sign. Taken in isolation, there a passages that are wonderful in terms of their sense of poetry and emotion, but these passages don't kn I've given up. At about two-thirds of the way through this slim book, I just couldn't face carrying on. It's a shame, because I love Jeanette Winterson's other novels, but Art & Lies is so obtuse that it's practically unreadable. Halfway through the novel I had to look up what it was actually meant to be about because I still didn't have a clue - not a good sign. Taken in isolation, there a passages that are wonderful in terms of their sense of poetry and emotion, but these passages don't knit together into a coherent whole.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alexandevra

    Art and Lies is one of my favorite books. It's very emotional, powerful and beautiful. A perfect book, indeed.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Orr

    Lyrical, rich, sometimes overwhelming, in its use of language, this is poetry in prose form.

  23. 5 out of 5

    William Adams

    Idly, I picked up this book in a used book shop. The publisher’s blurb on the back said it was “…a daring novel that burns with phosphorescent prose on every page.” I thought, “Yeah, sure.” I opened the book at random and to my amazement, every page I read burned with phosphorescent prose. Is it a novel? There is no plot, no storyline, no climax, no epiphany, no denouement. But there is life-drama, mystery, strong characterization and beautiful language. In fact the work could be read as a serie Idly, I picked up this book in a used book shop. The publisher’s blurb on the back said it was “…a daring novel that burns with phosphorescent prose on every page.” I thought, “Yeah, sure.” I opened the book at random and to my amazement, every page I read burned with phosphorescent prose. Is it a novel? There is no plot, no storyline, no climax, no epiphany, no denouement. But there is life-drama, mystery, strong characterization and beautiful language. In fact the work could be read as a series of extended prose-poems. Alternating chapters describe the lives of the three main characters, Handel, a physician-priest, Picasso, a young woman who paints, and Sappho, the pre-Socratic poet of sexuality. The three lives mildly intersect from time to time, unknown to the characters. A fourth, minor, enigmatic character who does not get her own chapters, is an aging prostitute searching for her boyfriend/john/pimp. Sappho, the poet, has a life span of 2000 years. Picasso is just a young woman with that moniker, and Handel is not the 18th century composer, just a guy named Handel, (Although the prostitute’s sought-after boyfriend is named Ruggerio, a character in one of Handel’s operas). All these characters are on a train, presumably going to different places on their life's journey. The train represents the arrow of lived experience. It’s not a real train and time is not real time. In Handel’s life story, I had a sense of Dickensian England, but other allusions, especially in Picasso’s story, place us in the 20th century or possibly beyond. The location does seem vaguely European. All the characters are fleeing themselves. Handel is trying to escape and forget a tragic surgical mistake in which he amputated the wrong breast in a botched mastectomy. That cost him his career. He’s also trying to escape his childhood, which involved long-term sexual abuse by a Catholic priest who nevertheless genuinely loved and educated him. Picasso, running away from home, flees a childhood of incest forced on her over the years by her brother, a tyrannical, dismissive family, and an attempted suicide. She seeks to lose herself in her painting but may be losing her mind. Sappho is the most difficult character. She resents that her poetry has been misunderstood or bowdlerized through the centuries. She claims to be a pure sexualist, not a romantic, not a metaphorical poet. “Say my name and you say sex,” she says. Sex alone is her topic, including its inevitable deceptions. She pontificates, beautifully, on the nature of art, despairs at the lack of passion in modern life, but it is not clear what her “mission” is, or from what, if anything, she flees. Her chapters are dreamlike. I should read this book again, two or three times. It is laden with allusions, historical, and inter-textual references. Alas, life is too short. Based on a single read, my takeaway is that the title reveals the controlling theme: Art and Lies. Those are the two elements, the only two, that drive any life. The mundane, embodied life, is a lie, is full of lies, and those lies are mostly about sex. The life of the flesh is transcended in art which spiritually lifts one to another plane. Here are samples, selected at random, of the kind of writing that drew me in: Handel: “I like to look at women. That is one of the reasons why I became a doctor. As a priest my contact is necessarily limited. I like to look at women; they undress before me with a shyness I find touching…When a woman chooses me above my numerous atheist colleagues we have an understanding straight away. I have done well, perhaps because a man with God inside him is still preferable to a man with only his breakfast inside him.” Picasso: On the dark station platform, lit by cups of light, a guard paced his invisible cage. Twelve steps forward twelve steps back. He didn’t look up, he muttered in to a walkie-talkie, held so close to his upper lip that he might have been shaving. He should have been shaving. Picasso considered the guard; the pacing, the muttering, the unkempt face, the ill-fitting clothes. In aspect and manner he was no better than the average lunatic and yet he drew a salary and was competent to answer questions about trains.” Sappho: “To carry white roses never red. White rose of purity white rose of desire. Purity of desire long past coal-hot, not the blushing body, but the flush-white bone. The bone flushed white through longing. The longing made pale by love. Love of flesh and love of the spirit in perilous communion at the altar-rail, the alter-rail, where all is changed and the bloody thorns become the platinum crown. The prostitute: “Doll Sneerpiece was a woman, and like other women, she sieved Time through her body. There was a residue of time always on her skin, and, as she got older, that residue thickened and stuck and could not be shaken off.” Delirious.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ebba

    "There is no such thing as autobiography, there is only art and lies" What a gem. As everyone who knows me personally know that Jeanette Winterson is my absolute favourite author without any competition, and this book was not a dissapointment. It's just... ah. The thing with Jeanette Winterson's books is that I always seem to pick them up at the exact right time of my life, and I even read the exact right section at the exact right time. I could be thinking about something in the back of my head, "There is no such thing as autobiography, there is only art and lies" What a gem. As everyone who knows me personally know that Jeanette Winterson is my absolute favourite author without any competition, and this book was not a dissapointment. It's just... ah. The thing with Jeanette Winterson's books is that I always seem to pick them up at the exact right time of my life, and I even read the exact right section at the exact right time. I could be thinking about something in the back of my head, and Winterson just manages to put everything into words. I think that is why I love her so much, more than anything, she just understands. This is a really weird book, and I would definately not recommend it to someone who is not familiar with some of Winterson's other works. However, it's absolutely incredible. The interesting (and possibly rather confusing) part of this book is that it completely messes with our perception of time. It is as if Winterson is trying to capture all points in time at the same time, and it twists with your idea of what history truly is. This book deals with identity, love, art, justice, and literally everything else and it's a complete mess but it's an absolutely incredible mess and I had such a wonderful experience reading it. It made me think about so many things I haven't thought about before but also so many things I never been able to put into words before. I just love her so much, and every single one of her books is like a new experience. As I said, not my recommendation for your first Winterson (start with Oranges are not the only fruit), but definately worth picking up at some point.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Maguire

    This is quite the most extraordinary book I have read, certainly for a long time - perhaps ever, and I am totally at a loss as to how to describe it. It is, by turns, lyrical, floating, earthy, irreverent, poignant, soaring, wince-inducing, and (occasionally) incomprehensible. Were anyone to demand a synopsis, certainly of the traditional 'beginning-middle-end' type, I would be hard pushed to give one, but that in no way detracts from it. The nearest thing I can compare it to is listening to mus This is quite the most extraordinary book I have read, certainly for a long time - perhaps ever, and I am totally at a loss as to how to describe it. It is, by turns, lyrical, floating, earthy, irreverent, poignant, soaring, wince-inducing, and (occasionally) incomprehensible. Were anyone to demand a synopsis, certainly of the traditional 'beginning-middle-end' type, I would be hard pushed to give one, but that in no way detracts from it. The nearest thing I can compare it to is listening to music. I don't understand how music works, I don't understand the technicalities behind it, and I don't understand how the disparate parts come together to make a whole. But I know the effect it can create, the intense emotions which can be evoked, and the glorious, powerful 'totality' which can engulf the listener. For me, reading Winterson's book was akin to listening to a symphony: parts transported, parts washed over, parts reduced to tears, and parts hit a bit of a bum note. At times I really had no clue what was going on, at others I caught glimpses of galaxies of meaning beyond those I could grasp, and at others strands of narrative came together in the most perfect way. I thoroughly recommend it - but with caution as it really is not for everyone. My advice? Read the first two and a half voices - if you are intrigued, or just a little in doubt, read on. If you find yourself curling you lip, or muttering 'WTF?' more than five times, read something else.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jui-Ting Hsu

    Might be more of a 3.5, not sure - Winterson’s writing is (as expected) masterfully crafted, but here the personages are not so much fully fleshed out as they are figures simply wearing names, and in writing their articulations are indistinguishable from one another. So be it for a work that strives for counterpoint, but writing does not necessarily get a pass because of its conceit; it must also execute it superbly.

  27. 4 out of 5

    J. Stone

    A truly special writer that seriously rips my brain apart. Not only can she writer circles around her peers, she is just fucking fierce. She can take any boring subject and make me interested in it. Art & Lies is a badass book. If you haven't read it, why not? This is NOT an easy read so don't get all preachy that your very small attention span couldn't handle the prose. Enjoy the genius; don't tear it down because you simply don't get it. Miss Winterson, you are a goddess

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dana Brown

    “What contains me? Fear, laziness, the opinion of others, a morbid terror of death, and too little joy in life.” This book is filled with gems and stabbing honesty. The thread of a story running through isn’t enough to keep me engaged. I skimmed for the bits but failed to read it cover to cover as a novel. Fascinating book and author. Totally unique in my experience.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Harrison Phinney

    Incendiary prose and inimitable style. The imagery is unforgettable and the questions raised haunting. I cannot imagine how many readings it would take to unpack everything here; but one reading was enough to devastate me emotionally and intellectually. I have only purchased two books in the past two years–VALIS and Vineland–but I may have to purchase a copy of this one.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kenzie Fluharty

    My copy is absurdly dog-earred, with just about every page having something lyrical and cutting that I want to go back to over and over again. The stories are a punch to the gut, and her prose makes them that much more impactful.

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