Published 2000 by Jonathan Cape
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Genre: Fiction, contemporary, LGBT/Queer
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“To avoid discovery I stay on the run.”
The PowerBook is twenty-first century fiction that uses past, present and future as shifting dimensions of a multiple reality. The story is simple. An e-writer called Ali or Alix will write to order anything you like, provided that you are prepared to enter the story as yourself and take the risk of leaving it as someone else. You can be the hero of your own life. You can have freedom just for one night. But there is a price to pay.
Winterson has taken fiction where it is supposed to go. Her previous works that I’ve read are full of a unique style of imagination, but this book takes it to the next level and I wish I’d read it sooner.
The story is written in a style that is a mix of both traditional, well-written prose, and modern, experimental fiction.
She plays with character, identity, sexuality, time and existence. This is what I imagine to be the product of Winterson sitting down and reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, then reading Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller.
There are two main narratives: the first is about Alix or Ali, a gender-fluid/gender ambigous writer who used writing fiction as the gateway to a variety of identities and existences for their customers.
If you want to experience life as someone else, you go to Alix who will write you into a story. But of course, all stories have meaning, emotion, conflict and heartache…you need to be prepared to face any and all of these.
It is pure escapism. However, I didn’t feel like I was living these different lives, but I did like the way they connected, and the break between chapters which acted as a sort of consolidation.
The first story/life entitled ‘ENTER HARD DRIVE’ was one of my favourites. It was a great one to open with because it stayed with me for the rest of the book. It sets out themes that will run through the other stories, and establishes the fact that for the time you’re in the book, gender and sexuality can be played with and manipulated. There are no boundaries here.
Some of the chapters didn’t resonate with me as much as the first, but they all had their purpose in contributing to the book overall. One of the narratives seems to be more prominent than the rest, and that is the story between Ali as a female having an affair with a married woman.
The chapters revolving around this story are beautiful. Winterson discusses love in a way I haven’t thought about before yet makes total sense. The love story contained in this book is one that will stick with me.
Towards the end there is a moment reminiscent of The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles, in which we are offered two scenarios. We don’t make a decision on which scenario was the one that happened, but we know which one we want to happen. This reinforces the message that although the idea of entering a story as yourself might seem like perfect freedom, you are bound to become emotionally evolved, and you will emerge a different person depending on which scenario you would choose.
This book was pure escapism, and I’m very glad it was written. As ever, Jeanette Winterson upheld her quotability and I underlined plenty of them on the subject of identity and love.
Whatever your life, whatever your identity, gender or experience with love, if you read this you’ll be able to appreciate how these areas of life are felt and experienced from someone else’s perspective.
Link to the book on Goodreads: The.Powerbook