ART AND LIES
Ms. Hen bought this book because she has read several books by Jeanette Winterson, and she enjoyed them. She had a hard time getting into the lyricism and poetry of this novel, because her head was still wrapped up in the of the language of last book she read, UGLY GIRLS, which is completely different; it’s more stark, plain, rough storytelling.
But when she was in ART AND LIES, it became magical. This novel is about three characters, Handel, Picasso, and Sappho, who are all traveling on a train. The different chapters describe each character.
Handel is a priest and a surgeon, and he has led a colorful life. He works in a hospital and administers help to the poor at times and is a breast surgeon. One of the most powerful scenes in the book is a scene with a charity patient who is a prostitute and he removes the wrong breast during surgery. Handel describes the bucket of breasts left by the operating table.
Picasso is a young woman and a painter. Her brother molested her for her whole life, and her parents refused to see it. She goes insane and paints the walls of their house odd colors. Picasso is always obsessed with art, but her father tells her that women are not artists.
Sappho is the poet from Lesbos. She describes her life across the ages. She is mad for love and sex and people. There are several fairy tales intertwined into her story, and she does not hold anything back.
The three characters are separate, but they work together. Handel is a priest, and has nothing to do with sex, and Picasso was molested, so she is scarred, and Sappho is a nymphomaniac. They have three different attitudes when it comes to intimate relations. They could be a manifestation of all of us, a little piece of all of them lives in everyone.
One of the ideas put forth by the novel is that “language is artifice.” Ms. Hen agrees with this, even though she does not want to. She knows that language is a made up thing, but we need it in our lives to express what it is we want to say. Ms. Hen thinks in words all the time, and she cannot imagine a life without words. But in nature, there are no words, there is only feeling. Humanity has gone past that and lives in words instead of breathing and air and intuition.
There are a few chickens in the novel. Ms. Hen's favorite is, “At night her mother pecked her on the cheek as hens peck at their food. Her face was a dirt yard where hens peck.” She enjoyed this metaphor of Picasso’s face as a dirt yard where hens peck. She’s never read a description of a face like that before. This entire book is full of that type of image, and charming little stories.
Ms. Hen loved this book, even though she found it hard to swim through its waters. It’s philosophical, and deep, and she doesn’t think it was the right book for her to read at this exact time. It’s not a summer, airy book; it’s more of a November or February book, meant to be read under the cloak of darkness and mist. Nevertheless, she gives it her stamp of approval.