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the Complete Review
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Gut Symmetries

Jeanette Winterson

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To purchase Gut Symmetries

Title: Gut Symmetries
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997
Length: 223 pages
Availability: Gut Symmetries - US
Gut Symmetries - UK
Gut Symmetries - Canada
Gut Symmetries - India
Das Schwesteruniversum - Deutschland
Simmetrie amorose - Italia
Simetrias viscerales - España

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting, often stylish read, though its absurdities undermine it

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph D 4/1/1997 Anthony Quinn
Electronic Mail & Guardian C 1/9/1998 Adam Mars-Jones
FAZ . 19/12/1997 Annette Pehnt
The LA Times B 13/4/1997 Audrey Bilger
The New Republic C 7/4/1997 Robert Alter
New Statesman C 10/1/1997 Amanda Craig
The NY Times Book Rev. A 11/5/1997 Bruce Bawer
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A- Fall/1997 Christopher Paddock
San Francisco Chronicle . 6/4/1997 Carey Harrison
The Spectator C 4/1/1997 David Sexton
TLS . 3/1/1997 Katy Emck
The Village Voice B- 22/4/1997 Lucy Grealy

  Review Consensus:

  Not much of a consensus, beyond perhaps that the book is way too self-indulgent.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Gut Symmetries strains for the fluidities of poetry, and actually conveys the sense of a writer grappling with language; indeed, it feels like it may have been fun to write. But it is mortifyingly dull to read." - Anthony Quinn, Daily Telegraph

  • "Überhaupt entsteht der Verdacht, daß die Autorin mit den Versatzstücken einer politisch korrekten "neuen" Ästhetik hantiert, um die Erwartungshaltung eines auf bestimmte postmoderne Signale eingespielten Lesepublikums zu bedienen." - Annette Pehnt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Gut Symmetries promises a drama and a resolution, but by the end of the book the storytelling element has all but evaporated and it would be indulgent to describe the plotting as ramshackle. By this stage Winterson seems hypnotised by her own performance, radioactive with self-belief, as Quentin Crisp described Joan Crawford." - Adam Mars-Jones, Electronic Mail & Guardian

  • "I found that Gut Symmetries kept me on my toes, not the most comfortable way to walk, but one that made me aware of the steps I took. A kind of walking meditation, the book asks us to think our way toward insights that only our guts can know and to feel our way toward mysteries that lie beyond our analytical minds. The path is, of course, not straight and it leads in multiple directions simultaneously, but in a Winterson book, you learn by going. Even if you don't follow every turn and angle, the journey is well worth the walk." - Audrey Bilger, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The ultimate problem with these gestures of style and these conjurings of concepts is that the characters themselves have a cartoonish flatness -- it is Winterson's most postmodern trait that makes it hard to accept them as agencies in which the great issues of time and eternity and the poetic fire of Olympus are engaged." - Robert Alter, The New Republic

  • "Winterson's attempts to link physics to passion read like The Song of Solomon as recounted by the cast of Star Trek." - Amanda Craig, New Statesman

  • "At a time when many publishers expect literary novels to have the relentless forward motion of an Indiana Jones movie, Ms. Winterson refuses to shift into narrative drive; eschewing the Interstate, she favors the bumpy, meandering byways of interior landscapes. At every turn, furthermore, her fresh, vivid way of putting things stops one dead in admiration." - Bruce Bawer, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Gut Symmetries proves Winterson's dynamic sense of language. It is a solid addition to an already stellar body of work." - Christopher Paddock, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Aside from the melodrama, Gut Symmetries contains some of Winterson's loveliest and most lapidary prose. But the presence among the three principal characters of two physicists and a poet tilts the book toward erudite abstractions and encourages the author's tendency to dwell in a dreamily inward, self-mesmerized tone." - Carey Harrison, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Gut Symmetries is extraordinarily difficult to get through; based on yet another romantic triangle in which two women end up happily as a couple, while the beastly man who has brought them together is sent to hell; full of tiresomely amateurish explanations of the `new physics' which are then pressed into service as distressingly overbearing metaphors; and, once again, showing no sign of serious interest in any human being who is not a projection of Winterson's own self." - David Sexton, The Spectator

  • "The author and the reader are saved by the objectifying quality of the narrative, and by Winterson's gift for conjuring up an environment filled with feeling. (...) Nevertheless, there is still a tendency to lurch between story, theory and self-regarding subjectivity with barely a thought for the breathless reader. (...) This is a beautiful, stirring and brilliant story, but it does not really make sense." - Katy Emck, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Though there are numerous wonderful passages in Gut Symmetries, and many compelling ideas, ultimately Winterson, rather than taking me on the extraordinary journey promised at the novel's start, is simply listening to herself speak, or, to be more accurate, reading herself write." - Lucy Grealy, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The setting of Gut Symmetries is, mainly, at sea -- on the QE 2 as well as a smaller yacht. Tossed by the oceans is a familiar triangle, newly rearranged. The characters are the poet Stella and her husband, the physicist Jove, and a fellow physicist, Alice. Alice sleeps with one, then with the other -- surprise, surprise -- as science and poetry clash and compete.
       The symmetries of the title are symmetries of the gut, as well as the GUT -- grand unified theories that the world of physics hope or expect will explain everything, more or less. Like entropy, it is one of those physics ideas that some writers find too good to pass up, even if they don't quite get what the physicists mean. But then, since most readers don't either, it is not really a problem.
       All three characters narrate at least parts of the story, trying in their own ways to understand themselves and the world, to find love and meaning. Winterson's sympathies are not exactly evenly divided, but that is her prerogative. Though there is more to it than this, much of the novel does center around the contrast between science and art -- with Winterson, unsurprisingly, coming squarely down on the side of Art. The scientific abstraction of modernity seems not to have much everyday application or use for her.
       The love triangle isn't one of Winterson's most successful. She chooses a rather bizarre plot twist towards the end as she sends her characters cruising on the high seas. Cannibalism, madness, and rescue are part of the odd turn, an unlikely sequence of events that is not particularly convincing and rather hard to take. The characters themselves are also fairly flat, with voices that are far too similar.
       Many of the touches are, to varying degrees, annoying. We particularly disliked the names -- by Jove, stellar Stella, another Alice. Stella, a real gem of a woman, also has a diamond at the base of her spine (an explanation of how it got there -- yawn -- is given) ... a touch too much, perhaps.
       For all that, we still found it a fairly entertaining read. Winterson's overblown style isn't to everyone's taste, but we'll take it over most popular styles. And there are enough ideas here, even if some of them are quite misguided. Science and men don't get an entirely fair shake, but both are resilient and can take their lumps (though science deserves a few more defenders (or critics) who actually know what they are talking about ...).
       Recommended, though not for everyone.

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Gut Symmetries: Reviews: Jeanette Winterson: Other books by Jeanette Winterson under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       British author Jeanette Winterson was born in 1959. She won the 1985 Whitbread Award for best first novel (for Oranges are not the only Fruit), the 1987 John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, and the 1989 E.M.Forster Award, among others.

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