Lighthousekeeping

Jeanette Winterson

I used to read books so quickly, it was disturbing to some friends of mine. But these days I plod through books and leave them half-read all the time. It was especially sad to open this book and feel some excitement because the type is so big. Yes! A quick read. Maybe I should just embrace it and dedicate myself to YA novels for a while.

In any case, years ago I enjoyed Winterson a lot and read everything I could get my hands on, but that was long enough ago that the evidence isn’t handily contained here on the log. I don’t know how many books Winterson has written since I lost interest, but when I overhead two ladies in a cafe talking about this one, it was like being reminded of an old friend. It was also a funny dialogue to overhear, as the one lady thought her friend was talking about a non-fiction book called Light Housekeeping. It took half a minute for her to realize her friend was relating pieces of a story and then she admitted, “I thought this was a Martha Stewart book or something.”

      “Sleep here,” she said, when the meal was done. She placed two kitchen chairs end to end, with a cushion on one of them. Then she got an eiderdown out of the cupboard — one of those eiderdowns that have more feathers on the outside than on the inside, and one of those eiderdowns that were only stuffed with one duck. This one had the whole duck in there I think, judging from the lumps.
      So I lay down under the duck feathers and duck feet and duck bill and glassy duck eyes and snooked duck tail, and waited for daylight.
      We are lucky, even the worst of us, because daylight comes.

I’ve always appreciated Winterson for her nonlinear narratives, but also for how she balances a keen sense of humor with these moments of startling depth. The plot is certainly not the focus here; partway through the narrator explains via a lighthouse metaphor that elements of her story will be left out: “The continuous narrative existence is a lie. There is no continuous narrative, there are lit-up moments, and the rest is dark.” This book doesn’t quite inspire as much as my favorite of hers, The Passion, but it’s a good read. Finishing a book in a few days was an old familiar feeling to boot.