The World and Other Places – Jeanette Winterson

By Jessica Barkwell

September is here and with it comes the inevitable plunge back into the academic side of life. For those of us still clinging to the freedom of summer, Jeanette Winterson’s new collection of short stories, The World and Other Places, provides the perfect opportunity to indulge a while longer. This collection takes the reader on a journey where the ordinary and extraordinary intersect and compliment one another.

Many of the 17 stories in this book were published previously in magazines or anthologies. However, each individual story illustrates both originality and an overwhelming capacity to use dense and poetic prose to describe possibly mundane events in a way that triggers the reader’s emotions.

The first story "The 24-hour dog" draws the reader in by introducing an ordinary situation: a character taking a dog for a walk. Underneath this ordinary scene lies the beginning of the book’s theme of questioning innocence and experience and their relation to creativity.

Each story uses the same pairing of everyday and unexpected. As the book jacket tells us, "Winterson transports the reader to worlds in which sleep is illegal, the lives of lonely department store clerks are transformed by fairies, the rich wear coal jewelry on an island of diamonds, and the living laminate the dead." Underlying each of the stories’ unique plots and characters is a web of metaphors and symbols. These provide the readers with the sense that Winterson is using this balance of ordinary and extraordinary to question many human goals, emotions and ideas.

The story "Holy Matrimony" opens with the sentence, "My Fiancé and I would like to be married in a church; an ordinary hypocritical sentimental impulse from two people who do not believe in God." Amusing and loaded, this introduces questioning of the institutions of religion and marriage that continues throughout the story.

Newton, a character in the same story says, "I like the simple text that can be read or not. That lies beneath your feet and mine, read or not. That falls, rain and wind, though nobody scoops it up to take it home." This is what Winterson accomplishes in each of the 17 stories in this book.

Whether you read The World and Other Places for the humour or join Winterson in her questioning of individuality, gender and art you can be sure to find every story entertaining enough to temporarily distract you from the plunge back into academia.

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