What I’m reading: Art and Lies, by Jeanette Winterson

From a distance, only the light is visible, a speeding gleaming horizontal angel, trumpet out on a hard bend. The note bells. The note bells the beauty of the stretching train that pulls the light in a long gold thread. It catches in the wheels, it flashes on the doors, that open and close, that open and close, in commuter rhythm.

On the overcoats and briefcases, brooches and sighs, the light snags in rough-cut stones that stay unpolished. The man is busy, he hasn’t time to see the light that burns his clothes and illuminates his face, the light pouring down his shoulders with biblical zeal. His book is a plane of glass.

Sometimes I’m positively stunned by gorgeous writing. These paragraphs, from Jeanette Winterson’s Art and Lies, are so beautiful– lines like this makes my heart pound; they make me slightly dizzy. Aren’t they lovely? This reads more like poetry than the first paragraphs of a novel.

I love the second and third sentences:

The note bells. The note bells the beauty of the stretching train that pulls the light in a long gold thread.

The three word sentence followed by the longer mimics the rhythm of the horn that it is invoking–a staccato blast followed by a longer full note, as the second sentence stretches, object after prepositional phrase after clause after prepositional phrase.

The next sentence picks up the imagery of the light that falls on the rushing train.

It catches in the wheels, it flashes on the doors, that open and close, that open and close, in commuter rhythm.

The emphasis falls on the first syllables of the verbs describing light (catches, flashes)–in reading the words your voice bounces on the flat “a” and then speeds on, tripping over the sibilant end of the word to skip over the next surface, before landing with a thud against those implacable doors. The contrast between the unpredictable glimpses of light and the mechanical monotony of the opening and closing doors is a jarring entry into the interior of the train–the beauty of nature is gone; we’ve come through the doors into the droning nightmare of commuter rhythms.

Still, the light is there, but the tone has changed. The commuters are dressed for work and bad weather; the diamond in the rough remains coal–no redemption here. But that last line:

His book is a plane of glass.

How beautiful. A book as a window, the act of reading as looking into some terrarium or aquarium, a complete and separate world which you can visit–into which you can fall–just by opening a book.

I haven’t made it beyond these paragraphs. The book may very well be horrid (I doubt it, it is a Winterson, after all.) But these lines–especially that last, the book as a pane, a plane, of glass–will stick with me. 

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