Review: Weight, Jeanette Winterson

I feel like all the Kage Baker books I’m reading should qualify for the Once Upon a Time Challenge, because they do feel more like fantasy than science fiction.  However, despite their genre-bending qualities, they have cyborgs, and the time travel is done with machines.  So Jeanette Winterson’s Weight, a retelling of the myth of Atlas and Hercules, is my first read for the Once Upon a Time Challenge, in which I am pretending I am not really taking part.

Weight is a book about looking for new ways to tell stories.  That is a theme that I love.  It’s a retelling of a Greek myth.  I love Greek myths, although admittedly Hercules was never my favorite.  It’s a myth retelling that isn’t afraid of leaving the old story behind to make a better story.  I support that.  It intersects Greek mythology and the science of planets and space travel in a way that I can only describe as adorable.

Yes, adorable.  You will see what I mean if you read it.

As I wrote down all those good things about Weight, I felt fonder and fonder of it, and I had to think very hard about why I did not finish it feeling satisfied.  The problem wasn’t that it was short, it’s a novella really – I liked that.  Atlas and Hercules is a smallish myth, and I am not sure it would have worked to spin it out longer.  It was more that Jeanette Winterson could not settle down to anything.  She’d be with Atlas for two paragraphs and then fwoosh, away she’d go about planets and other things, and fwoosh, here we are with Hercules feeling mysterious guilt feelings and fwoosh here is his wife and fwoosh here is Atlas again…  I dunno, I found it disorienting.  Hence I cannot altogether rejoice in Weight because it made me feel like a hyper six-year-old deprived of her Ritalin.

Other reviews:

A Garden Carried in the Pocket
things mean a lot
Adventures in Reading

Let me know if I missed yours!

31 thoughts on “Review: Weight, Jeanette Winterson

  1. I’ve never read anything by Winterson (though I have Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit on my shelf). I’m sorry this was disorienting and disappointing. 😦

  2. I really like fairy tale retellings, so I’m sad this one didn’t work out well. I was going to say I have heard great things about Lost Books of the Odyssey, but I’m pretty sure I heard about that book from YOU, so never mind!

    • I love retellings of myths and fairy tales, etc. too! That’s actually why I got this book rather than another of Winterson’s. What I really wanted was Boating for Beginners, which is apparently a retelling of the Noah’s Arc story, but they library hadn’t got it.

      You probably did hear about it from me! At least, I know I thought it was great and told everyone about it for a while!

  3. I think your complaint about not staying in one place is very typical of Winterson. As a technique, it is the sort of thing that either works for you or doesn’t, and for me it does. It does feel like she’s trying to get in a lot of sometimes disparate ideas, but there is a general lightness to her writing (despite the serious ideas it addresses) that makes me feel more like I’m riding a cloud around her thought-world.

    • I do like it that her writing has that light spirit, even when she’s writing about fairly grim topics (as I remember she did in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit). I’m wondering if a longer book would compensate for the skipping about thing for me, because I did like Oranges.

    • They did make it tricky, although I wondered whether it would be a better reading experience if I had picked it up at odd moments, just read bits of it a time, you know? Maybe that would have made the skipping about feel more normal… I always think of these things when it’s too late. 😛

  4. I read this review without registering the author’s name, and when I got to the “whoosh” part thought, “Hey, this reminds me of that book, what’s-it-called, the one by Jeanette Winterson.”

    So at least two of her books go whoosh. I liked the one I read, even while I wished it would hold still. I much prefer the structured Chinese-box type disjointedness of a book like Cloud Atlas.

      • The Stone Gods. The first colonizing mission to another planet. Post-apocalyptic environmental crumble alongside absurdist commercialized culture that doesn’t really care. Underclass intelligent robots. A bunch of sci-fi tropes, but not handled in a traditional way at all.

        I was looking on my library’s online catalog for the title, and my, she has good ones. They all give the sense of weighty, occluded anticipation that is what I love to feel when I’m heading into a book. I think I will keep reading her just to crack the shell and see what’s inside a title like Gut Symmetries or Tanglewreck. Of course, there’s the disappointment potential.

  5. I think I liked this book a lot, but reading your review made me realise I don’t remember it nearly as well as I thought I did. I had to go back and re-read my post to reminder myself of why I liked it 😛 I guess that’s one of the things book blogs are for. Anyway, sorry it didn’t work all that well for you!

    • Ack, sorry I missed your review! I edited to add your link. I am always so grateful for my blog when I am trying to remember what I thought about a certain book. That’s the exact reason I started it in the first place.

  6. I was more amused by this review than I probably should have been – I’m not sure I’ve ever read something that has made me feel “like a hyper six-year-old deprived of her Ritalin.” Thanks for the mid-week laugh, I needed it!

    • Glad it made you smile! I was afraid when I wrote it that somebody would say I was promoting overmedication of poor little kids and I AM NOT. 😉

  7. I’m not a big fan of greek mythology, but I don’t mind retellings. I have to agree with Claire – I loved the part of your review where you related feeling like a six-year-old deprived of Ritalin. Excellent description!

  8. I think Winterson is a frustrating writer altogether – so much talent, and yet often her work is patchy. But I do love this series of mythic rewrites – it’s such a wonderful idea. Hilarious review, as ever!

  9. I have only read two books by Winterson, and had only mild success with both. I am curious about this book after having read your review though, and will have to try it. Though it sounds a little undirected, I bet it could be fun!

    • It is absolutely worth reading! The adorable thing that happens is unbelievably adorable. I knew in my mind that it was a bit silly and random, but Winterson sells it, sells it, sells it. You’ll know the bit I mean when you get to it.

    • Really? I think she’s pretty famous in England at least, or maybe I’m exaggerating her fame in my mind because I’ve known about her for so long. (My sister read Sexing the Cherry when I was still young enough to giggle at the title in embarrassment.) Well, she’s a good writer! This one wasn’t for me, but I enjoyed Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which is her most famous book (to my knowledge).

  10. Hmm… I might give this one a shot because it sounds adorable, but switching so suddenly and so often might keep me from reading this. Also, you make me want to read oodles and oodles of Kage Barker, so that comes in first.

    • I sometimes like jumpy books – I think. It all depends on the execution. In this one, it felt like she was jumping around because there wasn’t enough story in any one place to justify staying with it for longer than a page or two.

  11. Pingback: Review: After You’d Gone, Maggie O’Farrell « Jenny's Books

  12. I have finished reading this today, like you I want more of my Ritalin NOW!!! Winterson is such a brilliant writer and this one will not be a damper. 🙂

    Nice blog and interesting to note we follow “almost” similar blog community. 😉

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