Title: Sexing the Cherry
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Publication Date: 1989
In a fantastic world that is and is not seventeenth-century England, a baby is found floating in the Thames. The child, Jordan, is rescued by Dog Woman and grows up to travel the world like Gulliver, though he finds that the world’s most curious oddities come from his own mind. Winterson leads the reader from discussions on the nature of time to Jordan’s fascination with journeys concealed within other journeys, all with a dizzying speed that shoots the reader from epiphany to shimmering epiphany.
After being exposed to Winterson's phenomenal writing in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, I obviously had to immerse myself in it more, through every book of hers I could find on Awesome Books (second had book retailer, much cheaper and sustainable than major online bookshops who, for some reason, have decided to up their prices during a pandemic, *insert ironic coughing sound* looking at you Book Depository). Back to the review, picking up Sexing the Cherry was meant to blow my mind, which it definitely did in a way I'll try to express through what you're about to read. It was nothing major in terms of plot development, but it managed to incorporate so many elements that defied traditional storylines, one of the author's many talents, and went against the linearity of time to present something that was in between imagination and reality, history and perception. The linearity of time in Winterson's novels was actually the topic of my final essay in my English Contemporary course, for which I had to read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the reason why I could recognize it in this novel as well.
''We have dreams of moving back and forward in time, though to use the words back and forward is to make a nonsense of the dream, for it implies that time in linear, and if that were so there could be no movement, only a forward progression. But we do not move through time, time moves through us.''
My purpose wasn't to compare the two, but it was really difficult for me to refrain from doing so when it became obvious that they were quite similar in terms of Winterson's approach on subjects that are more than relevant in today's society, as much as they were back in the '80s when this book was published. My favorite part about it was definitely the writing style. It was effortless in its ability to create vivid imagery that developed unexpectedly and without much difficulty.
The book itself talks about gender as a social construct that solely depends on how it's perceived by each individual. The two main characters, Dog Woman and Jordan, were both represented by a specific fruit -a banana and a pineapple respectively- at the beginning of their narrative. Fruits play a big part in this novel in terms of symbolism, which is why it took me a while to understand the title itself, but we'll get to that part in a bit! Both exotic and uncommon during the 17th century, they stand for this reversal of gender stereotypes that describe each character individually and how the two merge together to create a special bond neither of them can coherently explain. They seem at a loss for words when it comes to expressing themselves and how much they care for each other, Dog Woman being the mother figure Jordan needed to become the hero of his own story, without forgetting where he came from. I stand by my belief that the title represents a merging of this duality we experience as human beings on an every day basis. The method used to create it is the perfect example of two separate things becoming something entirely different, but the same. What was born out of their roots becomes a better version of what already existed as something familiar and eventually forges its own path!
What about the journey that is hidden within his journey though? What about the potential of the path he didn't take and the story he never told? This quote, located in the very first page of the novel, describes the ambiguity of our existence as human beings and the fact that we'll never be sure of how much we've been through and what we've actually experienced throughout our lifetimes.
''Every journey conceals another journey within its lines: the path not taken and the forgotten angle. These are journeys I wish to record. Not the ones I made, but the ones I might have made, or perhaps did make in some other place or time. I could tell you the truth as you will find it in diaries
and maps and log-books.''
The subjectivity of history as a discourse that documents events based on particular narratives that have established the maps of the world we live in, but have never fully experienced, is Jordan's main concern throughout the novel, the lives he has not lived and the places he has yet to discover. Fascinated by the adventure of unknown lands he could sail away to without expecting anything in particular from the journey, he becomes invested in discovering something that has no name, but will acquire meaning as soon as he finds it. Many believe that what has already been discovered loses its magic, the mystery surrounding it disappears because it has been solved, thus creating the idea that it only mattered when nobody was aware of its existence. But how can it have so much meaning, when nobody knows it's there to begin with? Knowledge that is acquired through discovery is never objective, which brings us to the conclusion that history itself cannot be trusted, since nobody has experienced it after it was written.
''Maps are constantly being re-made as knowledge appears to increases. But is knowledge increasing or is detail accumulating?''
I could write on and on about the multiple perspectives shining through this novel, the corruption of a system that makes people believe it was constructed to benefit them and not itself, the alienation of people who point out its faults and sacrifice their lives to try and change it, the search for something that might not exist and our inability to recognize it if it does, the unfulfilled dreams we have stashed away in a corner, the time that passes through us while they're collecting dust and the conformity we subject ourselves to, the hope of reaching a future that isn't determined by what we look like on the outside... The ending found me in tears to be completely honest with you, which I was definitely not expecting. It left me with this sense of having the closure needed for me to close the book, but not with the finality of reaching the end in its entirety, if that makes any sense. I have so many question after reading Sexing the Cherry. I cannot stress how important a book that was written almost forty years ago and is relevant to this day is. The ending was not, after all, an ending in the traditional sense. It was rather a new beginning toward something more that just needs to be discovered in the pages of another book maybe, or a memory, or a person. I want to end this review with some of my favorite passages, in the hopes that it will make you curious enough to pick it up yourselves...
''Time has no meaning, space and place have no meaning, on this journey. All times can be inhabited, all places visited. In a single day the mind can make a millpond of the oceans. Some people who have never crossed the land they were born on have travelled all over the world. The journey is not linear, it is always back and forth, denying the calendar, the wrinkles and lines of the body. The self is not contained in any moment or any place, but it is only in the intersection of moment and place that the self might, for a moment, be seen vanishing through a door, which disappears at once.''