Read The PowerBook Online

Authors: Jeanette Winterson

The PowerBook

BOOK: The PowerBook
10.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The PowerBook

“Piercingly beautiful.… Winterson is essentially a romantic, a kind of modern-day Shelley bashing her head against the mundane conventions and daily requirements of living.”

The Seattle Times

“A romantic tango of possession and identity that hints of Graham Greene and Henry James.”

The Hartford Courant

“Winterson [has a] gift for lush economy, for the line that stops the reader dead with recognition.… This novel is one that can be read over and over, the way one might read a meditation, a daily prayer or a love letter.… Winterson is a rare writer of inimitable and singular talent. And
The PowerBook
is her finest achievement.”

The News & Observer

The PowerBook
is an inveigling tale of possession, power, barter, vulnerability, back-arching lust, anticipation, trust and surrender.”

Financial Times

“[Winterson] has a knack for compressing stories down to their liquid essence.”

The Boston Globe

“Light, even uplifting prose.… Reading it is like being on a strange holiday, with Winterson as a guide who strings together history, religion and fables.”

San Antonio Express-News

“[Winterson] has an uncanny ability to reach into the depths of a smitten soul and pull out every last bloody and tearstained secret.… Her written words still stir passions few writers even recognize.”

LA Weekly

“Prose that is as lush as it is luminous, as sublime as it is utterly human.”

The Star-Ledger

“Winterson is a delightful writer whose commitment to her own true voice illuminates all her books.… In terms of originality of design, [she] may be one of the bravest writers working in fiction today.”

The Oregonian


Copyright © 2000 by Jeanette Winterson

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britain by Jonathan Cape, London, and subsequently in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 2000.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage International and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:

Winterson, Jeanette.
The PowerBook / Jeanette Winterson. —1st American ed.
p.   cm.
1. Internet (Computer network)—Fiction.
2. Electronic mail messages—Fiction.
3. Authorship—Fiction.
I. Title: PowerBook.
II. Title.
PR6073.1558 P69    2000

eISBN: 978-0-307-76361-7

Author photograph © Jayne Wexler


language costumier

To avoid discovery I stay on the run. To discover things for myself I stay on the run.

It’s night. I’m sitting at my screen. There’s an e-mail for me. I unwrap it. It says—
Freedom, just for one night.

Years ago you would have come to my shop at the end of the afternoon, telling your mother you had an errand for the poor.

At the tinkle of the bell you would have found yourself alone for a moment in the empty shop, looking at the suits of armour, the wimples, the field boots, and the wigs on spikes, like severed heads.

The sign on the shop says
, nothing more, but everyone knows that something strange goes on inside. People arrive as themselves and leave as someone else. They say that Jack the Ripper used to come here.

You stand alone in the empty shop. I come out from the back. What is it you want?

Freedom for a night, you say. Just for one night the freedom to be somebody else.

Did anyone see you arrive?


Then I can pull the blinds and light the lamp. The clock ticks, but only in time. From outside, looking in, there will be only a movement of shadows—the looming of a bear’s head, a knife.

You say you want to be transformed.

This is where the story starts. Here, in these long lines of laptop DNA. Here we take your chromosomes, twenty-three pairs, and alter your height, eyes, teeth, sex. This is an invented world. You can be free just for one night.


Take off your clothes. Take off your body. Hang them up behind the door. Tonight we can go deeper than disguise.

It’s only a story, you say. So it is, and the rest of life with it—creation story, love story, horror, crime, the strange story of you and I.

The alphabet of my DNA shapes certain words, but the story is not told. I have to tell it myself.

What is it that I have to tell myself again and again?

That there is always a new beginning, a different end.

I can change the story. I am the story.



I want to start with a tulip.

In the sixteenth century the first tulip was imported to Holland from Turkey. I know—I carried it myself.

By 1634 the Dutch were so crazy for this fish-mouthed flower that one collector exchanged a thousand pounds of cheese, four oxen, eight pigs, twelve sheep, a bed and a suit of clothes for a single bulb.

What’s so special about a tulip?

Put it this way … When is a tulip not a tulip?

When it’s a Parrot or a Bizarre. When it’s variegated or dwarf. When it comes called Beauty’s Reward or Heart’s Reviver. When it comes called Key of Pleasure or Lover’s Dream …

Tulips, every one—and hundreds more—each distinctively different, all the same. The attribute of variation that humans and tulips share.

It was Key of Pleasure and Lover’s Dream that I carried from Sulyman the Magnificent to Leiden in 1591. To be exact, I strapped them under my trousers …

‘Put it this way.’

‘No. I’ll crush them when I rest.’

‘Put it this way …’

‘No. I’ll crush them when I pray.’

‘Put one here and one here …’

‘No! It will look as though I have an evil swelling.’

Well, where would you store a priceless pair of bulbs?

That gave me the idea.

In the same place as a priceless pair of balls.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

When I was born, my mother dressed me as a boy because she could not afford to feed any more daughters. By the mystic laws of gender and economics, it ruins a peasant to place half a bowl of figs in front of his daughter, while his son may gorge on the whole tree, burn it for firewood and piss on the stump, and still be reckoned a blessing to his father.

When I was born, my father wanted to drown me, but my mother persuaded him to let me live in disguise, to see if I could bring any wealth to the household.

I did.

So slender am I, and so slight, that I can slip under the door of a palace, or between the dirt and the floor of a hovel, and never be seen.

A golden thread, a moment’s talk, a spill of coffee, a pepper seed, is all the distance I am between one side and the other.

I became a spy.

Sulyman himself appointed me and his instruction now is that I should get into a boat and bear a gift to his friends, the Dutch. A gift that every scurvy captain and leprous merchant will try to steal.

How to conceal it?

Put it this way …

My mother got some stout thread and belted it through the natural die-back of the bulb tops. Then she sewed the lot onto a narrow leather strap and fastened it round my hips.

‘Should they hang dead centre like that?’

(My mother went to inspect my father.)

‘Dress them on the left.’

‘That’s good, but there’s something missing.’


‘The bit in the middle.’

I went up into the hills, for tulips grow as thick as thieves here. I found myself a well-formed fat stem supporting a good-sized red head with rounded tips. I nicked it at the base with my knife and the juice covered my fingers.

At home my mother embalmed the tulip, and in a few days it was ready to wear.

This was my centrepiece. About eight inches long, plump, with a nice weight to it. We secured it to my person and inspected the results. There are many legends of men being turned into beasts and women into trees, but none I think, till now, of a woman who becomes a man by means of a little horticultural grafting.

My mother knelt down and put her nose close.

‘You smell like a garden,’ she said.

BOOK: The PowerBook
10.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Coyote Waits by Tony Hillerman
Vacation Under the Volcano by Mary Pope Osborne
Spin Control by Niki Burnham
Getting Near to Baby by Audrey Couloumbis
Moon Kissed by Aline Hunter
The Snow Queen by Mercedes Lackey
Bonereapers by Jeanne Matthews