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Gut Symmetries


An affair. Two women. A man. Love disrobed and exposed to its multiplicitous passions, pains, and controlled recklessness. "What kind of woman goes to bed with another woman's husband? Answer: a worm? That might explain my invertebrate state."
Physics seems to have become the new language of love in the 1990s, and Jeanette Winterson is not the first writer to make a major character a physicist. Jonathan Lethem mined similar territory earlier this year in his delightful book, As She Climbed Across the Table, and now Winterson enters the lists with not one, but two physicists populating the pages of her equally wonderful book, Gut Symmetries. If you think about it, physics does make a good metaphor for love, encompassing as it does the principles of attraction, the exchange of energy, and unification. At the center of this meditation on "the intelligence of the universe" and "the stupidity of humankind" are Jove, a married physicist; Alice, a single physicist who becomes his mistress; and Stella, Jove's wife and later, Alice's lover. They meet on the QE2 and from there the three participants in the story take turns telling their versions of it.

Reading Jeannette Winterson is like picking up a broken mirror, looking in it, cutting your hands, then marvelling at how beautifully red our blood can be. Gut Symmetries is a complex work. At times you may become disoriented. You may be uncertain who's speaking. It's worth staying with it until the pieces come back together. Even when disoriented you will find a character's self-reflection cutting beautiful and deep. "I am not afraid of feeling but I am afraid of feeling unthinkingly. I don't want to drown. My head is my heart's lifebelt." Handle it as a broken mirror -- piece by piece. Savor it one sentence at a time.
The highwire artist of the English novel redraws the romantic triangle for the post-Einsteinian universe, where gender is as elastic as matter, and any accurate Grand Unified Theory (GUT) must encompass desire alongside electromagnetism and gravity.

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Tags: Winterson, Symmetries, physicist, become, mirror