"The sun may well be shouting": Sexing the Cherry reviewed

Posted 17 Apr 2018 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

Sexing the CherrySexing the Cherry is one of the most extraordinary books I know. In revisiting it, I was struck by how much of it was still lodged beneath my skin. Ideas about life, language, time and gender that I thought were my own all lie here. Barely a page goes by without some revelation or immediately recognisable truth that has both never crossed your mind before, and yet somehow you have always known.

The plot (of which there isn’t much) follows a giantess and her adopted son, whose adventures begin in 17th Century London and stretch to the farthest flung corners of the imagination. To describe it as Magical Realism feels both accurate and somehow lacking. This is a magic book, and Winterson conjures through language. Words are slippery; what seemingly begins as metaphor can talk itself into actuality. Take a line like:

“We saw the sun rising over the water, and the light got louder and louder until we were shouting to make ourselves heard.”

"In another’s hand this is just poetry, but in this world the sun may well be shouting."

In another’s hand this is just poetry, but in this world the sun may well be shouting. Over the page words even take physical form:

“Words, rising up, form a thick cloud over the city, which every so often must be thoroughly cleansed of too much language. Men and women in balloons fly up from the main square and, armed with mops and scrubbing brushes, do battle with the canopy of words trapped under the sun.”

Winterson has also thoroughly cleansed her book of too much language: my paperback runs to a scant 144 pages, she writes with the punch and economy of a fairytale. Closer in some ways to poetry than prose, these are plain words well chosen, and it’s this matter-of-fact approach to the fantastical that makes it so extraordinary.

"she writes with the punch and economy of a fairytale"

Sexing the Cherry is not entirely flawless; there are a few sections in the latter half where story surrenders entirely to philosophy, and though Winterson’s tender portrayal of lesbian relationships is second to none, some of her righteous (and arguably vital) misandry has the unfortunate effect of presenting male homosexuality as shorthand for stupidity or corruption. That said, I can think of no other book so stuffed with magic, beauty and original thought. Disappear into it, and emerge ready for fresh adventures.


Chris BushChris is a Sheffield-born playwright, lyricist and theatre-maker. She has been a resident artist for Sheffield Theatres, the Oxford Playhouse and the National Theatre Studio, and a member of the Orange Tree Theatre’s Writers’ Collective.

Past work includes A Declaration from the People (National Theatre), What We  Wished For, A Dream, The Sheffield Mysteries (Sheffield Theatres), Larksong (New Vic Theatre), Cards on the Table (Royal Exchange, Manchester), ODD(Royal & Derngate: concert performance), Sleight & Hand(Summerhall/BBC Arts), TONY! The Blair Musical (York Theatre Royal/Tour), Poking the Bear (Theatre503), The Bureau of Lost Things (Theatre503/Rose Bruford) and Wolf(National Theatre Studio: reading). She specializes in musicals, large-scale community work and political theatre that isn’t rubbish.

Chris has won the National Young Playwrights’ Festival, a Brit Writers’ Award, the Perfect Pitch Award, two Spotlight Emerging Artists’ Awards and a Kevin Spacey Foundation Artist of Choice Award. She also teaches playwriting for the National Theatre, and is a visiting practitioner at the University of York.

Chris’ new musical The Assassination of Katie Hopkins opens at Theatr Clwyd on 20th April

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