Family and fantasy

Issue 

Family and fantasy

Art and Lies
By Jeanette Winterson
Random House. $29.95 (hb)
Reviewed by Kathy O'Driscoll

Following from the success of her previous novels Sexing the Cherry and Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson's latest book deals with issues of gender and the family within the realms of fantasy.

Winterson is an author hard to categorise, drawing freely from different styles and genres. Art and Lies has a non-linear structure, which weaves together four different narratives.

The three main characters — Handel, a doctor with composer's hands, Picasso, a (female) painter, and Sappho, a lesbian poet — are tied together by events and circumstances dating back throughout history. The narratives revolve around the complex relationships between the characters, following them as they attempt to deal with a decaying society set in the near future.

Winterson makes references throughout the novel to specific historic events and people to emphasise the oppressive role of institutions such as the family and religion. The characters constantly dream of transcending the society in which they find themselves. Sappho continually travels back to the beach where she wrote her poetry. Yet the reader is never quite sure whether it is remembrances of life in the past of if they can actually travel back in time.

Like her other novels, Art and Lies is beautifully written prose which captures the imagination. It tells us not to be trapped within the time/space in which we "chance" to be living, but through our imaginations to travel to distant lands.

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