My copy of The Snowman, next in the Jo Nesbo series, has been lent to I know not whom so am diverting elsewhere for a while. Jeanette Winterson was one of my favourite writers some years ago but much of her more recent work has left me cold – some of it is too clever for its own good and the language became forced and self-conscious. I think The Stone Gods is her back at her best though, exploring some of her favourite themes, including the existence of multiple realities and the nature of time.
This is the story of Spike and Billie told over different worlds and times. Most compelling is the dystopian vision of a world run by corporations at a time when a new planet has been discovered and is being prepared for human habitation. Spike and Billie’s relationship is a thread that connects all the worlds, as does the human race’s constant striving for something ‘better’ – and its failure to learn from past mistakes. As an asteroid is diverted in order to clear the new planet of dinosaurs we are left wondering where exactly in our linear understanding of history these stories fall, and whether passing on stories can stop the endless cycle of build and destroy that humans seem hell-bent on repeating.
As I would expect from Jeanette Winterson, there is lots of playing with language and using it to reinforce some of the themes of the book. But it’s when she uses is very simply that her skill as a wordsmith really becomes apparent. There’s one paragraph, for example, early on in the story, that is as achingly beautiful and rare as the wildlife being described. In a sterile world Billie introduces the anomaly that is home, a farm where “the poppies that change the furrowed earth into a red sea that hares part” , where there are “trout shy in the reeds” and “the clough where the frogs wait patiently to be in a fairy tale”. Much of The Stone Gods reads like a fairy tale, with doses of sci fi on fast forward and elements that reminded me of Tom Robbins’ writing thrown in for good measure. At times it does feel like the plot is moving too fast and I wanted to spend more time in the worlds and with the characters Winterson has created. But, as I said, overall this is her back on form and a good reminder of why I first fell in love with her writing.