I’m not sure if it was a slight twinge of guilt at being so absent recently, that writing the last post made me realise that I’m woefully still not even at #300, or that it’s now possible to lie in the sun in my garden and read to my heart’s content (as long as it’s not raining – of course I could still do that but the book would get wet and it wouldn’t be very pleasant) but I decided to pick one of the shorter books I got this week and get through it today.
The Passion is the third novel I’ve read by Jeanette Winterson, but the first I’ve read since starting this blog. It’s years since I read Oranges are not the Only Fruit (although I remember enjoying it – although not in a ‘this is the best book ever’ kind of way – I think I often use the word ‘enjoy’ in a misleadingly mild manner when it comes to books to mean I read it quickly and not without displeasure. I wouldn’t apply the same description to a meal eaten in such a fashion) so I couldn’t say for definite whether The Passion is my favourite of the novels I’ve read by her, but I did prefer it to Sexing the Cherry – the former sits in the middle of the two in terms of magic realism (if that’s the right way to describe it). I think I was particularly captivated by The Passion because, although it had its feet firmly ground in history (in Napoleon’s either 19th century campaigns and subsequent defeats – or at least it threw in sufficiently few historical references for me to feel like I could place it on a timeline but not so many that I began to feel bored by them) its arms are stretched out towards fantasy; but not in a way that’s alienating (which I found with Sexing the Cherry). As such I was able to enjoy the escapism it offered but without feeling farcical – maybe that’s trying to analyse it too much and it would be simple and truer to say that it was a captivating story that oscillates between history and myth (I suppose you could argue that the line betwixt the two is so often blurred anyway) with likeable characters and a plot of love and adventure.
The novel begins with Henri, an idealistic naïve young Frenchman who set off to join Napoleon’s army and is put in charge of his chicken habit – his job being to prepare and serve Napoleon with his daily doses of the bird. Unsurprisingly, even while managing to avoid the fighting associated with Napoleon’s campaigns, Henri’s story is somewhat bleak, more so as his emperor nears the end of his military prowess. By contrast, Villanelle, who we meet in the second chapter, is a venetian casino worker with webbed feet and adventures of a completely different kind – and as the blurb says, these characters eventually meet and their stories merge together for a while, as they escape Moscow and flee on foot back to Venice. I suppose it’s apt to say that The Colour (my previous read) pales in comparison, and I did enjoy this more – however the former did draw me out of my reading drought so I don’t want to do it too much disservice.