Sunday, August 21, 2011

Weight

Jeanette Winterson’s Weight (2005), a retelling of the myth of Atlas (and, to a lesser extent, Heracles), is more like a long personal essay than a novel, which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, one thing that might have improved it is a little more detail about Winterson’s life (or the narrator’s—though Winterson makes clear in her intro she doesn’t mind you thinking of them as the same person): the points where she jumps in to write about the weight she has burdened herself with in her life are slightly too abstract to get traction.

In this version of the story, Atlas allegorizes the inability to let go of past wrongs; more than the gods, he sentences himself. Likewise, Winterson carries around her rotten childhood, letting her resentment shape her relation to the world. Where she succeeds best is in her portrayal of the opposing personalities of Atlas and Heracles, the former brooding and masochistic and the latter just shy of being a chatty meat-head (just shy only because of a nagging conscience he’d rather be rid of). Overall, though, the book just felt a little too light in substance. Because I didn’t feel the pull of the personal narrative, the fable just felt like a well-told fable rather than the more personalized myth that Winterson seems out to create. It was a great idea, I think, but perhaps just too quickly executed.

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