Good afternoon, readers! This summer an English teacher/mentor of mine sent me one of her favorite books, as she believed it was one I would enjoy and that I could take lessons from – Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion. Not only is it challenging intellectually, it is also a perfect summer read.
The Passion takes place during the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), and is told from the perspectives of a simple French soldier who religiously serves Napoleon all the way into the depths of the Russian cold, and a young, strong headed Venetian woman who works in a casino and has seen how gambling transforms from a thrill, into a game of luck or death. Both characters learn what it means to be in love, the thin line between passion and obsession, and how both can consume you fully.
I have always enjoyed novels where the reliability of the narrator can be questioned, and The Passion unexpectedly became a story that, by the end, I wondered if any of it was true. Winterson utilizes history to shape who her characters are – Henri, the French soldier, dedicates all of his love and admiration to Napoleon. He realizes, however, his passion is undeserved, as he sees how the war destroys cities and violently ends men’s lives only for Napoleon to treat such tragedies as replaceable and insignificant. Villanelle is born and raised in Venice, however throughout the novel she is depicted as having mythical qualities and there are elements that indicate something unreal about her and Venice itself. Despite reference to actual historical events, Henri’s narration continually leaves open ends where the reader would only naturally wonder if the stories being told were real or made up.
There are many impactful descriptions and reflections throughout the novel regarding love, pursuing the heart’s passion, and faith. Winterson’s mixes fantasy with reality, as well as immersing the reader in a tumultuous history and making us believe in the lives of Henri and Villanelle.
Enjoy readers! – Luriel