There are three major characters in this book: Henri, a young soldier with an ardent desire to serve Napoleon and receive the honor of “serving” the nightly roasted chicken to the self-appointed Emperor; Villanelle, a daughter of a Venetian boatman, who spends her evening cross-dressing as a young man; and the other main character, is passion itself. Passion is discussed, displayed and analyzed in its many forms. The story is part mystical realism, part historical fiction and thoroughly enjoyable.
Interspersed in the story are little, mystical, anecdotes. One is of a man who has a set of old boots which are thumb-nailed sized from an encounter with goblins. Another of a diamond necklace made from a woman’s tears and an icicle that doesn’t melt.
Ms. Winterson’s prose are mesmerizing. She has a way of stating the most mundane things in ways which cause you to squirm and think. A few of my favorite passages:
This is about young men arriving to the war zone for the first time, “Most of these recruits aren’t seventeen and they’re asked to do in a few weeks what vexes the philosopher’s for a lifetime; that is, to gather up their passion for life and make sense of it in the face of death. They don’t know how but they do know how to forget, and little by little they put aside the burning summer in bodies and all they have left is lust and rage”
“To survive the zero winter and that war we made a pyre of our hearts and put them aside forever. There’s now pawnshop of the heart. You can’t take it in and leave it awhile in a clean cloth and redeem it in better times.”
“Snow doesn’t look cold; it doesn’t look as though it has any temperature at all. And when it falls and you catch those pieces of nothing in your hands, it seems unlikely that they could hurt anyone. Seems so unlikely that simple multiplication can make such a difference.”
Overall, I really loved this book, but I have to give it four stars instead of five just for the violence and sex.
4 stars (Rated R – for a lot of violence and bawdy sex.)