Jeanette Winterson’s novel “Written on the Body” is the first book I recommend when someone asks me for book ideas. I have my dear friend, KC, to thank for this one. This book is my go-to for poetic prose, the book I read over and over again, reference over and over again, because its language is so sweet and so desperately unforgiving.
The book is a genderless love story told from the point of view of the nameless author. The object of affection is Louise, a married woman.
“Written on the Body” is really more about savoring the words as opposed to a path to a dramatic ending. An exerpt:
Articulacy of fingers, the language of the deaf and dumb, signing on the body body longing. Who taught you to write in blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons? You have scored your name into my shoulders, referenced me with your mark. The pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap a message on to my skin, tap meaning into my body. Your Morse code interferes with my heart beat. I had a steady heart before I met you, I relied upon it, it had seen active service and grown strong. Now you alter its pace with your own rhythm, you play upon me, drumming me taut.
Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights; the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like Braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes. Never unfold too much, tell the whole story. I didn’t know that Louise would have reading hands. She has translated me into her own book.