Sexing the cherry

by Jeanette Winterson

Paper Book, 1989


Checked out
Due Jun 2, 2016


New York : Grove Press, 1989.


In the reign of Charles the Second, the first pineapple came to England. Who brought it and why? Pineapple as metaphor is not the only fruit to be real and imaginary. This is a story which ebulliently rejects any single reading of history or life and revels in the multiplicity of truth and time.

Media reviews

''Sexing the Cherry'' fuses history, fairy tale and metafiction into a fruit that's rather crisp, not terribly sweet, but of a memorably startling flavor.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Medellia
This was a really great book. Surreal, beautiful, full of myth and fairy tale. A story about time and matter and boundaries and the blurring thereof. The structure of the first large section of the book (the part set in the past) reminded me of the structure that the chapters tended to take in One Hundred Years of Solitude; by the end, it had cycled back to the events of the beginning, with a shift in perspective to another character. A magical little trick--I love it.… (more)
LibraryThing member Eye_Gee
I picked this book up at a yard sale because I thought it looked interesting. It was. It's a hard book to describe - it
explores ideas about time and space brilliantly but it was hard to follow at first because the story jumps around (in time and space of course) before you know the characters. I had to go back and read the beginning when I was halfway through the book to get things straight. It's not a long book. Beautifully written, quite dreamlike and ephemeral. The musings on time and space are thrilling, somewhere between science and spirituality. I would give it 5 stars if it hadn't been so confusing at first.
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LibraryThing member sunfi
Somehow I must have missed something, this has to have been one of the worst little things I have ever read. The author does have a talent for the imaginative and the last section of the book "Some Years Later" was actually pretty entertaining. I have the bad habit of not being able to put down a book after starting it and having to read the whole thing. I started to do that with this one but I just couldn't do it, maybe one day I will break this bad habit. The only thing I did find redeeming about this book is that it was short and I didn't spend too much time on this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member joe_chip
this review will contain spoilers - i usually don’t include spoilers, but i feel with this book its very hard to review it without addressing what happens in the latter half of the book.

on the surface of it, the novel is about an enormous (and i do mean enormous, her skirt is big enough to be a ship’s sail) and grotesque woman and her son living in 17th century england. the novel is set in an alternate history and has a lot of elements of magical realism, and is written somewhat in a stream of consciousness style.

it alternates between the first person narratives of the enormous woman and her son, jordan. the woman’s narrative deals with the way she interacts with and is perceived by her community. jordan’s narrative is mainly to do with his search - he is a restless character and is always searching for something, and as such often goes on long sea voyages.

the two narratives read like ramblings, and for a long time didn’t particularly lead anywhere. this is something i had a bit of a problem with. ramblings are difficult to pull off because obviously what usually drives a novel is a plot. ramblings can work if the characters are interesting or particularly well-written, or if one really enjoys the writer’s use of language. i found the woman interesting, but not enough to sustain my interest in the novel; jordan i found quite boring - he was an oddly absent narrator. he was there, but he never really let the reader in, it felt. the same with the language - i enjoyed it, but it couldn’t carry the novel for me.

when this happens then the episodic nature of the narrative becomes even harder to handle - each chapter being an odd diary entry where we see what jordan or the giant get up to and learn their views on society and their philosophies on life. at first this was interesting, but after a few pages it became tiring. i kept on starting each chapter thinking “where is this heading?”

even though the book is short (only 144 pages) it is still very dense - so it took me quite a while to get through it. it doesn’t help that i’m a slow reader, and i think now that perhaps i should’ve just read this in little installments. a chapter every day or so, on the loo or something (they’re all very short) and not read it as a book (if you know what i mean). then i wouldn’t have imposed a narrative upon it and enjoyed it purely for its language, as dark orpheus recommends.

another reason why i struggled, is because i found the characters rather repulsive. i found it quite fun when the giant woman killed people and stuff, but underlying that is a deep melancholy and… something else. i don’t know. she’s a very coarse character. but… actually sympathetic, if truth be told. i think it was the tone of the novel (and her narrative) more. it was very heavy and negative. at one stage we have the plague and then the great fire of london and these aren’t jolly moments. winterson’s insight on these disasters is very deep, though, and as depressing as it is, her depiction of the great fire is one of the best parts of the book.

all that i’ve discussed up until now relates to the first 2/3ds of the book - in the last third, the book massively picked up. on jordan’s travels he meets the 12 dancing princesses and learns of this world where people are flying about (they used to walk around on ropes connecting the houses and then, later, just started flying - i loved that place!) he chats to them a bit here and there, but by page 80 theres a stretch where each princess tells her story. most of them are about escaping their husbands that were enforced upon them.

suddenly there was linear narrative and i loved it! i loved each princess’ little story and i began to see what winterson’s reputation was based on (well, from my perspective anyway). the only story we don’t read is the story of the 12th princess - she is nowhere to be found. naturally jordan decides to go and find her, and eventually we learn her story.

then, after that, something wacky and very cool happens. suddenly the setting shifts to the modern day (the late 1980s) and we have two new protagonists. one is a woman who is an environmental protestor, the other is nicolas jordan, a boy who has always loved boats and heroes, and dreams of one day being a hero and sailing the seas.

immediately we see a parallel between these two new characters and the ones set in 17th century england. they are more than just similar, however, and are clearly different incarnations of the same people. this is made clear when the protester says that she is going mad and hallucinates that she is a grotesque, gigantic woman living in the past. when this stuff started happening i was loving this book - i like this kind of thing, and it made sense of what had been happening. as cool as this was, though, i personally feel it took way too long for the connection to be made between past and present.

neverheless, winterson’s treatment of this dual existence thing is very good. its subtle. at one stage you think that the present day characters had just been fantastising and have invented their past incarnations, but winterson avoids that simplification. we aren’t given a clear explanation as to what their connection is and we have to, in the end, accept that they are simply two versions of the same people. i really liked this - how she challenges our concepts of time and identity. this is, of course, not a new concept, but it is done so well here that it is one of the very few times that i found myself really believing in the concept.

a lot of that is down to how in-touch the novel is with reality. when it is in the past, even though it is magical realism, winterson captures the essence of 17th century london. in the present, she perfectly captures the cynicism of the 80s. i found her rendition of the present very depressing, but it was an impression that i could definitely identify with.

at the end i was rather happy with the novel, even though i wished that the connection had been made earlier. there were lots of bits that i really enjoyed, especially the tales of the 12 dancing princesses - with these tales winterson gave her imagination free reign and they really were a joy to read. i loved the stuff with the future versions of the protagonists and found that part of the book rather profound.

i’d definitely recommend this book, particularly to those of you who are quick readers, and especially since you’ll know that while it rambles, it does eventually lead somewhere. the last third of the novel is certainly worth the wait.
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LibraryThing member csoki637
Creative, a little all over the place, but I liked it.


Assorted quotes:

Johnson shouted above the din as best he could . . .

We were out at sea. Grey waves with white heads. A thin line in the distance where the sky dropped into the water. There were no birds, no buildings, no people and no boats. (p. 16)

We were all pleased to see the elephant, a huge beast with a wandering nose. (p. 24)

I fell in love at once, if love be that cruelty which takes us straight to the gates of Paradise only to remind us they are closed for ever. (p. 35)

He had eleven brothers and we were all given in marriage, one to each brother, and as it says lived happily ever after. We did, but not with our husbands. (p. 48)

His cheeks were steep and sheer, his mouth a volcano. (p. 50)

Then a stag and five deer came out of the wood and across the fields in front of my eyes. The fields were fenced and the stag jumped over, turning his head to bring the others. Just for a second he remained in the air, but in that second of flight I remembered my past, when I had been free to fly, long ago, before the gracious landing and a houseful of things.
He disappeared into the dark and I turned my back on the house. The last thing I heard was the sound fo the hunt clattering into the courtyard. (p. 53)

I never wanted anyone but her. I wanted to run my finger from the cleft in her chin down to the slope of her breasts and across the level plains of her stomach to where I knew she would be wet. I wanted to turn her over and ski the flats of my hands down the slope of her back. (p. 54)

Jordan was nineteen and stood as tall as my chest, which was impressive for a man not come out of my body. (p. 64)

The earth is round and flat at the same time. This is obvious. That it is round appears indisputable; that it is flat is our common experience, also indisputable. The globe does not supersede the map; the map does not distort the globe.
Maps are magic. In the bottom corner are whales; at the top, cormorants carrying pop-eyed fish. In between is a subjective account of the lie of the land. Rough shapes of countries that may or may not exist, broken red lines marking that are best hazardous, at worst already gone. (p. 81)

Thinking about time is to acknowledge two contradictory certainties: that our outward lives are governed by the seasons and the clock; that our inward ilves are goverend by something much less regular – an imginative impulse cutting through the dictates of daily time, and leaving us free to ignore the boundaries of here and now and pass like lightning along the coil of pure time, that is, the circle of the universe and whatever it does or does not contain. (pp. 89–90)

I needn’t have gone into pollution research. It’s odious in every way. Big companies hate you and continually set their in-house scientists to discredit your facts. Governments at home and abroad are very slow to notice what you say. Slowness is the best you can hope for, outright hostility and muddling methods are more usual. The earth is being murdered and hardly anyone wants to believe it. (p. 125)

I had sex with a man once: in out in out. A soundtrack of grunts and a big sigh at the end.
He said, ‘Did you come?’
Of course I didn’t come, haven’t you read Master’s and Johnson.
And then he fell asleep and his breathing was in out in out. (p. 127)

The future and the present and the past exist only in our minds, and from a distance the borders of each shrink and fade like the borders of hostile countries seen from a floating city in the sky. The river runs from one country to another without stopping. And even the most solid of things and the most real, the best-loved and the well-known, are only hand-shadows on the wall. Empty space and points of light. (p. 144)
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LibraryThing member iayork
Just breathtaking: This is the first Winterson book I'd ever read, and I wasn't disappointed. The narration is ingenius, the imagery is so incredibly vivid ind the characters are immensely rich. It's diminutive length makes it a quick read, though you'll want to slow down and savor it.

This is such a masterfully written book that I really want to give it five stars, but I felt like the ending was inorganic. The rest of the book is so sly in blending its (distinct) feminist slant into the historical context that it doesn't feel preachy, but the end by comparison felt like a punch in the face.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly.
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LibraryThing member damsorrow
Virginia Woolf's Orlando Grendel lots of bawdy sex and violence = another five star review for a book. I think my review clout might be shot if I don't read something I don't like soon.
LibraryThing member seldombites
Sexing the Cherry is certainly imaginative, but it is not my cup of tea. Like a stream-of-consciousness poem, I found this book extremely difficult to follow. The stories jump from person to person, time to time, place to place, reality to fantasy until it seems as though we are completely adrift. No doubt this was the intent, but, while there were some interesting philosophies expressed throughout, I do not have the patience to untangle all the knots.… (more)
LibraryThing member aubreyfs
A short, beautiful and philisophical book about time and love and identity. The setting is purposely evasive which is a little weird at first. It is supposedly 17th century England. "Language always betrays us, tells the truth when we want to lie, and dissolves into formlessness when we would most like to be precise." Winterson has such a great knack with language!… (more)
LibraryThing member downstreamer
Some beautiful writing, but no plot. It's the work of a young author, and it shows.
LibraryThing member 391
I love, love, LOVE Sexing the Cherry. It's funny and intriguing, and I think Winterson is one of the best storytellers today.
LibraryThing member samantha464
This is not for the weak. A non-linear plot line that tells history as a series of circles, strange transistions that make no distinction between fantasy and reality, and characters who shift size, shape, appearance, and even lives like water make this small book anything but short. But for those who like fairly tale retellings and undeniably weird plot lines, its a great experience.… (more)
LibraryThing member Intemerata
I can't actually decide whether I liked this or not (I felt the same way about One Hundred Years of Solitude, so maybe it's a problem I have with magical realism). It's beautifully poetic, the characters are fascinating, and I liked the combination of a realistic 17th century setting with fantastical fairy-tale elements. On the other hand, I found it seemed to ramble a bit - I guess that's part of the point, with the theme of non-linear time, but I prefer books with more drive to the plot.… (more)
LibraryThing member Laurenbdavis
As part of my continuing preparation for reviewing Winterson's new book, "Why be Normal When You Could Be Happy", I've just finished this one. SEXING THE CHERRY is firmly in the post-modernist camp, as is all of Winterson's work, and although this is not a camp in which I'm generally comfortable, I have trouble resisting Winterson's work, since its so beautiful written. SEXING THE CHERRY mixes history and myth, and includes a lot of narrative sidesteps and digressions. It plays with time and the power of story, and the motifs of orphan and monster/mother are here, as they were (although more realistically) in ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT. In this novel, the narratives shift between seventeenth- and late-twentieth-century London and the world of fairy tale, which stands outside time.. The principal narrators Cherry are a seventeenth-century giantess called Dog-Woman and Jordan, her adopted son, whom she fished out of the river (here, too, we have similar religious overtones to ORANGES). Winterson explore questions of gender and sexual identity, as well as the power and limitations of story-telling. And as usual, she does it with sly wit and lovely prose.… (more)
LibraryThing member Cariola
This is the second book by Winterson that I've read, and it didn't leave me any more satisfied. I guess I'm just not into magical realism.
LibraryThing member iayork
Just breathtaking: This is the first Winterson book I'd ever read, and I wasn't disappointed. The narration is ingenius, the imagery is so incredibly vivid ind the characters are immensely rich. It's diminutive length makes it a quick read, though you'll want to slow down and savor it.

This is such a masterfully written book that I really want to give it five stars, but I felt like the ending was inorganic. The rest of the book is so sly in blending its (distinct) feminist slant into the historical context that it doesn't feel preachy, but the end by comparison felt like a punch in the face.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly.
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LibraryThing member mich_yms
In Sexing the Cherry, Jordan is found floating in the River Thames. A large woman, known only as the Dog Woman, rescues baby Jordan, and brings him up like her own son. But Jordan, having been ‘born’ of the river, belongs to the river, and it isn’t long before the flowing waters reclaim him once again, as he sets of with sails to travel the world.

The book is told with alternating narratives, first Jordan, then the mother, then Jordan again and so forth. But while the mother’s narratives sound like actual accounts of what is truly happening in their world, the same can’t be said for Jordan’s narrative. Because you see, Jordan is a dreamer. His richest experiences are in his dreams, as he travels to places not yet known to him, but which he believes to perhaps truly exist.

Having dreamt of a beautiful dancer once, he then sets off in search of this elusive character. Which brings him to meet the Twelve Dancing Princesses. They, who were supposed to have lived happily ever after with their twelve princes, are now living together as sisters once again. They each tell him their story, and each one of them as enchanting as the next. All very unpredictable.

Towards the end of the book, we are introduced to another pair of characters, now in 1990. Nicholas Jordan is also a dreamer, someone who dreams of sailing and travelling the world, and to do so he decides he wants to join the army. During this time, he reads a newspaper article about a nameless woman who sits by a polluted river to draw attention and create awareness about what damage the world is suffering from.

Her thoughts (I assume these are her thoughts and beliefs), having been molded into the story, read just as beautifully as fiction.
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LibraryThing member rachaelster
I *heart* Jeanette Winterson, and this is a classic no one should miss.
LibraryThing member Anniais
I haven't read this book. My wife assures me it is easily a classic in its own time. I just wanted to take this opportunity to say
"I love Jeanette Winterson!!" I saw Bill Moyers interview her and she is lovely and beautiful and she speaks with glorious ebullience.

And yes I do have a thing for middle aged Brittish women who are unlikely to return my affection: Tilde Swinton is heaven, and Emma Thompson is a goddess. Clearly

Thank you
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LibraryThing member amerynth
I should start off by saying that I really detest magical realism, but I love the way that Jeanette Winterson writes. So three stars is pretty high praise for her novel "Sexing the Cherry" since it is filled with the magical realism I hate so much.

There are a lot of interesting bits in this short novel -- the 12 dancing princesses and lack of a linear timeline. Winterson has an amazing way of using words sparingly to paint a really rich and vivid picture.

I'm not sure the elements of the story came together for me overall. I admit I expected a lot out of this novel since I liked "Oranges Aren't the Only Fruit" so much. In this instance, I really feel it was just the case that this book in particular wasn't up my alley.
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LibraryThing member Lisa.Johnson.James
This was an interesting, imaginative book that takes place in England at the time of the English Civil War, & centers around Jordan & his mother, who is nameless except for being called the Dog Woman. He was found by the river, & that's what she names him for, the River Jordan. Jordan has flights of fancy that take him to different places, as he travels with John Tradescant, the King's Gardener, around the world in search of rare & exotic plants. The point of view switches back & forth between Jordan, his adventures, the tales he spins, & his mother's more down to earth adventures of murder & mayhem in London. Somewhere along the line, the linear time seems to blur, & time has no meaning.

At only 167 pages, I finished in well under 24 hours, making it a fast, easy, fun read :)
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
This book is a hard one for me to rate and review. There were parts of the book that I thought were very well done both in writing and in cleverness. But maybe because I'm writing this review and it's been a month since I finished the book, I just have a vague impression of it being enjoyable but not earth shattering.
LibraryThing member flying_monkeys
Rating: 4 of 5

The act of reading Sexing the Cherry was itself a journey. Filled with allusions, metaphors and imagery, it was a heavy read, not for those who find such prose pretentious or unsatisfying. Usually I blow through 167 pages in a couple hours; this one took me four days to complete. So much was packed into a single sentence, I often found myself re-reading to examine, digest and/or journal. And, when I finished the story, there was dozens of my little post-its sticking out, marking passages that lit a fire in my thinker's boiler.

If enjoyed the first time, re-reading Sexing the Cherry will likely present new meaning(s) for its reader. If I were to read it again in say, a year, five years, a decade I'm sure different passages, ideas, images would grab hold. The exploration of time and reality most resonated during this, my first, read.

However, I wouldn't feel comfortable recommending this book to the casual reader because I think it'll be a love it or hate it type of experience for most people. Plus, where (or when) that reader is in their life, would also affect their reaction to the story.
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LibraryThing member allriledup
A sometimes confusing, yet fascinating read, at turns philosophical and fantastical. "The Nature of Time" was my favorite section, particularly for this quote: Thinking about time is like turning the globe round and round, recognizing that all journeys exist simultaneously, that to be in one place is not to deny the existence of another, even though that other place cannot be felt or seen, our usual criteria for belief. Thinking about time is to acknowledge two contradictory certainties: that our outward lives are governed by the seasons and the clock; that our inward lives are governed by something much less regular-an imaginative impulse cutting through the dictates of daily time, and leaving us free to ignore the boundaries of here and now and pass like lighting along the coil of pure time, that is the circle of the universe and whatever it does or does not contain. (87)… (more)
LibraryThing member barrettlucero
I remember really liking this book when I first read it as an active writer in college. I can see why I did - it's a beautiful read and I was really into magical realism, which Winterson writes handily. And the main character is so mythic and wonderful. But this time around I got a little tired of the journey of reading the poetry prose. This probably means I'm a soulless creature. Or that I'm older and jaded. Maybe one in the same.… (more)



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