The Passion

I wanted so much to love this novel, I really did. Aea first told me about it two years ago, but I didn’t get a chance to borrow it until recently. Although it’s a very short book (about 160 pages), I only finished it after several days. That’s partly because I had tons of schoolwork, but honestly it’s also because The Passion didn’t really make a strong impression on me (I started another book halfway through the week). As I read, I kept in mind that it’s one of Aea’s favorite books and that other people like it as well—and perhaps that’s part of what ruined it for me. I moved from chapter to chapter, waiting for that point when I’ll realize this is a beautiful novel—but soon I’ve reached halfway, the end of the book, and still it had not come.

In The Passion, Jeanette Winterson weaves together a semi-historical, semi-magical tale of war, love, time, and mystery. It begins with a contemplative soldier named Henri, who leaves the French countryside for war, follows Bonaparte’s army until Russia, and winds up in Venice, the city of changes. Along the way he meets the horse-taming Domino, the far-seeing Patrick, and the red-haired Villanelle—a web-footed boatman’s daughter with whom he will share a tumultuous destiny.

The narrative is told from the alternating perspectives of Henri and Villanelle. While the former describes the somber uncertainties of a soldier’s life, the latter provides glimpses of a Venetian gypsy’s world—a whirlwind of disappearing water alleys, androgynous dealers, fanned cards, and constant gambles. And yet the story’s tone seldom changes throughout the book. Short, catchy lines repeat themselves at regular intervals: “In between fear and sex, passion is.” Here the writer’s self-confidence overflows; and although clearly meant to captivate, these repetitions end up just short of annoying. But the book does have its moments here and there, showing even through hazes of sentimentality. This much I have to give Winterson: her novel is strange, different, new; but although it seems tempting to concede to overwhelmingly positive opinions, it appears I cannot do so without lying.

Do it from the heart or not at all.

‘Will you kill people, Henri?’ ‘Not people, Louise, just the enemy.’

Perhaps all romance is like that; not a contract between equal parties but an explosion of dreams and desires that can find no outlet in everyday life.

I was happy but happy is an adult word. You don’t have to ask a child about happy, you see it. … Adults talk about being happy because largely they are not.

‘Trust me. I’m telling you stories.’

‘…every moment you steal from the present is a moment you have lost for ever.’

Soldiers and women. That’s how the world is. Any other role is temporary. Any other role is a gesture.

The night seems more temporary than the day, especially to lovers, and it also seems more uncertain. In this way it sums up our lives, which are uncertain and temporary. We forget about that in the day. In the day we go on for ever.

To kiss well one must kiss solely. No groping hands or stammering hearts. The lips and the lips alone are the pleasure.

If you should leave me, my heart will turn to water and flood away.

There’s no sense in loving someone you can only wake up to by chance.

I stayed because I had nowhere else to go. I don’t want to do that again.

‘I love you,’ I said, then and now.

Why did I imagine things would be different simply because time had passed?

Whoever it is you fall in love with for the first time, not just love but be in love with, is the one who will always make you angry, the one you can’t be logical about.


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