True to Winterson charm, the reader is taken on a drifting and cloudy plot-line that forces a deeper understanding of what is written between the lines.
We follow three figures: Handel, Picasso and Sappho. The novel splits into three narratives that alter in time, but rhythmically mirror each other in the depths of their words as the three travel towards the coast on a train. In the beginning, there is no hint of familiarity in the figures, although they of course are all on the same train for a similar reason to be discovered within the pages and confirmed in the conclusion.
Handel, for me, was the easiest to follow. He is a surgeon and at one time long ago, a priest. He is shy and quiet and delights in the female form in a unique way that separates him from all other men. Experiencing Winterson's voice through the gruff textures of a man is always difficult because of her tendency towards feminism, but through Handel she captures the essence of her own voice filtered through his character.
Picasso's narrative is a recollection of the negative parts of her life, specifically the attempt of her family to drown her creativity and gender. Regardless of the multitude of struggles that are thrust upon her, she continues to push on through the hardships with the belief that she can prevail over indifference. Her character is a strong yet broken woman that seeks the relation to the original namesake.
Sappho was the most difficult to follow. both the poet of 660 BC and present day. She drifts in and out of poetry not unlike the Woolf stream of consciousness, littering the heavy descriptions with the beautiful wording of a true romantic. Although well-worded and almost dream-like in description, Sappho tended to bore me with the pages and pages of romantic ramblings. I often found myself sighing with relief when her segment would end.
The most important connection for all of the characters is the struggle. Whatever it was that they went through in their lives, and every struggle is largely different and obscure from the next, they all found themselves deserted by those who they held dearest. The most important fact of them all riding the train together is the strong symbol that they are not alone, even if the world shouts to them that they are. All three figures have been broken in the 200+ pages, yet they still remain past the conclusion.
I give this novel a 3/5. Originally, when I was reading I became tired with Sappho's constant rambling and I grew weary of the foreboding "defeatest" attitudes that I was sure would prevail throughout the pages. But within the lines, ever so subtly, Winterson hid clues to their stories connecting in a way that I would not have imagined. They all connect to each other in more ways than simply metaphorically, and although the plot drifts through time they all come together in the past and in the present, shattering the entire reality of time. It is through the physical and metaphorical connection that I found solace and hope in the conclusion of the text.