Eating a hundred golden pippins in a single afternoon was the act of self-indulgence and dubious taste to which Jonathan Swift attributed the madness of his latest years. Sexing the Cherry is ripe with Swiftian tropes, from the Brobdingnagian heroine who makes men seem like Lilliputians, to the setting of the tale-within-a-tale on a flying island lightly adapted from the Laputa of Gulliver’s Travels. Fishiness, rather than juicy fruit, is Jeanette Winterson’s theme. In her first novel, The Passion, a lesbian had webbed feet: here, the malaise has spread inexorably upwards and a lover has turned into a mermaid.
Before Winterson read English at Oxford she worked as a beautician in a funeral parlour, and both of these experiences find their way into her writing. Sexing the Cherry is littered with corpses in various stages of dismemberment and literary necrophilia is the odour of the day. There are scents