Review: The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson

The Stone Gods cover art, artist unknown

This is a short one: I hope you enjoy it. As always, comments and constructive criticisms are welcome.

The Stone Gods is presented as a novel, but reading it is like entering into a series of short stories featuring recurring characters, themes and connections. It has the feeling of a collage; many separate pieces stitched into a whole by the author. The prose is beautiful and uses relatively simple words threaded together to create complex images and ideas.

Billie and Spike are the two main characters, and they fall in love over and over. First on a spaceship escaping a dying planet, then on Easter Island in caves and under stars, and once again in a place called Wreck City built of remnants and bordered by a radioactive forest on one side and a broken train on the other. And around them, worlds end.

There is always a sense of souls searching for home, but not being certain of what home means, of the repetition of mistakes on both personal and planet-wide scales. Worlds are destroyed repeatedly because of greed and an enslavement to useless things; the stone gods of the title.

A latent anger simmers just below the surface, lifting its head in Billie’s despair at genetic “Fixing”, a process that prevents aging, Spike’s tales of the destruction of the trees and the descriptions of the dying worlds. In this book, hope always overcomes in a bittersweet way.

Hope is present as Spike, a robot in two of the stories, learns to feel through reading poetry, sometimes offered by Billie, sometimes by others.

There is a host of vivid characters in this book, some present for mere pages. A woman with mouths where her nipples should be hopped casually across the story. There is a pirate-like spaceship captain who tells stories and is named Handsome. The vividly described but un-named leaders of the rival clans on Easter Island. Pink, a woman who wants to be genetically reversed to age twelve but ends up stranded in the stone age, nuns living in Wreck City alongside bikers and an all woman Vegan rock group. Broken humans living in the radioactive forest.

In many ways, this novel can be read as a long cry for freedom; not the freedom to buy clothes or possess a car or never age, but the freedom to simply feel. There are so many ideas and statements in this book that it is impossible to mention them all. However, they do not overwhelm the reader; it is like looking at a night sky and seeing more stars the longer one looks.

The style is a first person stream of consciousness, interspersed with other character’s anecdotes, extracts of poems, repeating paragraphs and quotes from earlier in the book. Although unique and for the most part wonderful, occasionally the style causes it to founder. Often it seems that the writer is exploring just as much as the reader, and this makes the writing both brilliant and difficult in turn.

Overall this was a wild, strange read with a tendency to move in many directions at once. I laughed out loud, cried and was left at the end with a plaintive sort of restfulness. For all its flaws, a very good book with much to say that is of worth.



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