Written by a lesbian writer, this novel affirms heterosexual normativity and Christian belief in the sanctity of marriage seen through the lens of adultery. Gay and lesbian literary critics, therefore, and, even worse, transgender literary critics, would probably abuse Winterson the same way they have tried to cancel J. K. Rowling.
A genderless and unnamed narrator has an adulterous affair with a woman, who either has died or merely vanished from the scene. That this entire novel is merely a linguistic exercise and not a fictional work meant to have some type of meaning in reality or didactic value for contemporary readers is obvious on the penultimate page, when the narrator asserts that “It’s as if Louise never existed, like a character in a book” (189).
That’s it. Nothing else to say about the plot. Typical adultery novel.
What’s fascinating, though, is that the gender of the narrator is irrelevant. If the narrator is female, then the adultery involves a lesbian relationship. If the narrator is male, then the adultery involves a heterosexual relationship. So what? Adultery is still adultery. The narrator is still contributing to a wife breaking her marriage vows.
What’s more fascinating are the literary allusions to Scripture and Christianity throughout the novel. Being a British work and set in Britain, the type of Christianity is Anglicanism grown flaccid in its theology and practice as the descriptive passage about a feeble worship service on pages 151-3 illustrates.
Also interesting are casual comments from various characters who show that a vibrant Christianity was desperately needed in the Britain of 1992 as it is still needed now, in 2022. The philosophy of one of the narrator’s boyfriends is not that love is God Himself and the greatest distinguishing feature of humanity, but that “love had been invented to fool people” (93). Another typical void-of-religion statement comes from a cancer doctor who says that taking care of cancer patients is “wasting your time”; the question “Why bother?” posed to this doctor is unanswered (149-50).
Pro-life readers, whether those who have same-sex attraction or those who are secure in heterosexual normativity, can cite one statement from the seemingly irreligious narrator as evidence against suicide. Commenting on being separated from his adulterous lover, the narrator affirms that “Although I felt that my life had been struck in two I still wanted life. I have never thought of suicide as a solution to unhappiness” (155).