LIGHTHOUSEKEEPING by Jeanette Winterson (Knopf), 232 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Jeanette Winterson has taken a few detours since her breakthrough best-sellers Sexing The Cherry and Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. When she wandered into art criticism territory, it looked like she'd lost her way for good. Except for Written On The Body, she has never come close to capturing the passion of those early novels.
With Lighthousekeeping, she still doesn't, but her picture-perfect prose does remind you that she's a terrific and fearless writer.
The narrative in her slim new novel unfolds from the point of view of the orphan Silver, who's sent to live with Mr. Pew, the keeper of the lighthouse at Cape Wrath at the northwestern tip of the Scottish mainland. Pew enthralls Silver, spinning story after story, weaving in characters from the cape's deep, dark past, putting himself in all the tales just to mess with the chronology.
This is an ode to storytelling and to the tenuous connection between the weavers of tales and reality. But the beauty of Lighthousekeeping is that, just as Silver can't get enough of Pew's stories, we wouldn't mind at all if Winterson just went on forever.
It doesn't matter that Silver's own love story feels tacked on, or that the book, artful as it is, is too short. There's something completely pleasurable about reading really precise, beautiful prose.