Thursday, July 21, 2011

REVIEW: The Stone Gods, by Jeanette Winterson

The Stone Gods, by Jeanette Winterson. Published 2009 by Mariner Books.

I've been a big fan of Jeanette Winterson's for a long time; I've been reading her since I was in high school, starting with her acclaimed Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, and continuing with Written on the Body, The Passion, and more. One thing you can always say about a Winterson book is that it will be beautifully written; few fiction writers can match her for sheer poetry. She's also a serious thinker and her books are often ruminations as well as narratives. It's been a couple of years since I last read a book of hers (I think the last one was Lighthousekeeping) and no matter what, I always look forward to peeping between her pages.

The Stone Gods is a little bit of a departure for the literary Winterson, being, as it is, a science fiction dystopia about a future in which humans have ruined Earth and must find a new world to inhabit. The main character, Billie Crusoe, takes off with a small contingent of colonizers to investigate Planet  Blue. Along the way, Billie falls in love with Spike, a rebellious Robo sapiens, a new breed of artificial life. Love is something Spike isn't supposed to feel, and Billie herself is tormented by the idea that everything that's happening has happened before, and will happen again.

It pains me to say this, because I love Jeanette Winterson's books in general, but I really wasn't crazy about The Stone Gods. Its premise is intriguing and the first part of the book is an engrossing page-turner; I also enjoyed the second part, a kind of reimagining of the diaries of James Cook, an early European visitor to Easter Island or Rapa Nui. Here Winterson explores themes around colonialism, environmental use and the impact of religion both indigenous and imported on the island's culture and its famed stone faces. It's also a deeply poetic and sensual exploration of the relationship between "Cook" and a native islander. After this part, though, the book veers off again into a really heavy-handed post-apocalyptic scenario, and I kind of lost interest. If you've read some of my other reviews, you may have noticed I dislike didacticism and political correctness in my reading, both of which this book has in spades.

So who should read The Stone Gods? Winterson fans for one, because whatever you want to say about the plot, her writing remains as gorgeously styled and wonderful as ever. I'd also recommend it for dystopia fans and people who want to read a fictional, vaguely SF take on our impact on the earth. It's short and it has a lot of redeeming qualities. Even if I can't say it's my favorite book of hers, I can't really rag on her too much. She's just so good and any book of hers is going to be better than most other things out there, even if I've read other things of hers that I liked more. I'm sure it's something the matter with me!

Rating: BORROW

The Stone Gods: A Novel
by Jeanette Winterson

I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


Col (Col Reads) said...

I haven't read anything by Winterson although a couple of her books are on my TBR, but I'll definitely start with a different title. Sorry this one didn't work for you!

bermudaonion said...

I don't think this is the book for me.

caite said...

I have always heard great things about her books and I think I actually have Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit around here somewhere so I think I might skip this one and start there.

Zibilee said...

I read and loved Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, and have considered reading other offerings by Winterson as well, but just have never made the time. I actually think I would like this one, since I find dystopians fascinating and I like the angle of the robo sapiens as well. I am sorry to hear that this one wasn't a favorite, and I am wondering if I would feel differently. Fantastic review, Marie!

Audra said...

I'm a hardcore Winterson fan so I want to read this -- but I'm a bit apprehensive. I never loved Doris Lessing's scifi even though I adore her fiction.

Anonymous said...

This is not for me and thanks for asking me borrow instead of buying.

Kathleen said...

I've never read this author before so this book would probably not be a good place to start.

Anonymous said...

My experience with Winterson is very hot and cold. As far as this particular book goes, I was a little bored.

Marie-Therese said...

Oh, dear. This is one of the few Wintersons I haven't read. I still want to read it but I'll know what to expect.