Night Side of the River by Jeanette Winterson - review by Suzi Feay

Suzi Feay

Things That Go Bleep in the Night

Night Side of the River


Jonathan Cape 320pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Jeanette Winterson’s career stretches back to the heady days of feminist publishing in the 1980s, when Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit made her a star at only twenty-five. Angela Carter and Fay Weldon were still active, and while Winterson was primed to take feminist fiction into a new era, her writing also represented a continuum with their work. In Winterson’s novels, Carterian fantasy is overlaid with a Weldonian readiness to break the frame and address – even hector – the reader directly.

While Carter, who died aged only fifty-one in 1992, harked back to fairy tales and working-class culture, and Weldon archly dissected the male–female bond, Winterson innovated with lesbian fiction (a term she dislikes). An interest in technological and scientific advances went hand in hand with her use of non-linear, freewheeling types of narrative. Gut Symmetries (1997) played with grand unified theories of life, as well as the tarot, and The PowerBook (2000) plugged into the era of the internet and virtual reality. Frankissstein, her most recent work of fiction, updated Mary Shelley’s classic novel with sexbots and transhumanism. So when, with this new collection, she turns to the ghost story, it’s no surprise that Winterson reaches far beyond the canonical repertoire of nocturnal bumps and clanks.

In the wittily titled ‘App-arition’, a bereavement app intended to be a source of solace for a new widow goes rogue and turns out to be the opposite, not least because her dead husband, John, whose messages and tone of voice it replicates, was abusive. ‘Ghost in the

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