One of my favourite quotes is from The Passion by Jeanette Winterson. “I’m telling you stories. Trust me” is a wonderful oxymoron. Telling stories implies lying, implies make believe and that is the very opposite of trust. However, this sums up perfectly the relationship between the reader and the writer. We put our trust in them even though we know that they are telling stories, possibly even playing games with us. If they are very good at their job of telling stories, the more we trust them. We allow them to take us through their make believe world.
I try to avoid disappointment when reading. That is probably an obvious thing to say but I am quite a careful reader and I know what I like and what I don’t like. If, for whatever reason, I end up reading something I’m fairly sure I won’t like then I have lower expectations and so no disappointment ensues. I think the only time I am disappointed is when I read a book by a writer I really like and it isn’t as good as I expect. It is probably still a lot better than a lot of other books I read but my expectations lead me to expect too much from it.
I first discovered Jeanette Winterson when I was at University and The Passion is one of my all time favourite books and I’d liked everything that she had written before. I couldn’t wait to read Lighthousekeeping. The excitement behind reading this book was made all the greater by the fact that as part of Off The Shelf, I went to hear her read an extract from the book. I was really expecting to love this book.
And it still contains all those things that Winterson is so good at;
the poetic imagery, the love of language and playing with language, the telling of and de-constructing of the stories we tell ourselves. But at the end I felt dissatisfied. It was even difficult to say exactly why or what the problem was. It just felt a little hollow, as if I had expected this book be a three course meal and to fill me up but I was left still feeling peckish.
It was too insubstantial for me. The language didn’t seem to lead anywhere and I was left with a feeling that I had greatly missed the point.
I had a similar feeling when I got to the end of A Sense of an Ending. Again, I love Julian Barnes and have read The History of the World in 10 and a half chapters a number of times, as well as a lot of his other novels. Again the story is well told, the narration is strong and the main character is convincing
but it didn’t seem to add up to a lot.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to say that I was both glad and not when this book won the Booker. Glad because it surprised me that Barnes had not won before with say Arthur and George, to name but one possibility. Not glad because I do not feel that this is Barnes’ best work by some stretch.
Perhaps my tastes are changing and both these authors are no longer what I really want to read. I hope not. I haven’t really returned to Jeanette Winterson after reading Lighthousekeeping which seems a little churlish considering how many of her books I have enjoyed. As for Barnes, I will have to wait and see what his next novel will be.