Posted on October 2, 2015
36. ‘The Stone Gods’ by Jeanette Winterson
I may have stumbled across the perfect way to read this book: on a train from Cornwall to Bristol, whilst listening to the folk band, Lau. I have to say the combination of lyric-less music, coastal scenery and Winterson’s dreamy writing style is pretty unbeatable.
The Stone Gods is a bizarre and beautiful science-fiction novel, or is it a collection of short stories? There are three sections which are linked but which also stand independent of each other. The first follows our narrator, Billie Crusoe, and the humanoid ‘Robo Sapiens’ Spike as they travel to the brand new Planet Blue to escape the failing old world and create a new one. The second tale takes place on Easter Island, where our hero, Billy, meets ‘native’ Spikkers and wonders at the destructiveness of the Island’s inhabitants. Finally, the third tale (set long in the future after the first tale) follows a ‘new’ Billie and Spike as they are tracked by the police and the army for taking a walk through the territory of outlaws, Wreck City.
My favourite section was the first – it sets up the themes of the rest of the book so well, particularly when Billie and Spike ‘accidentally’ trigger a planet-sized catastrophe and have to deal with the fallout. Winterson’s main refrain in The Stone Gods is the cyclical nature of human destruction: we will always destroy anywhere that we live, but we will also always find somewhere new. In that way the message manages to be not entirely doom and gloom – there are always characters that seem capable of redemption on behalf of the rest of the human race, and there is always hope when we find a new planet.
I loved Winterson’s world-building. She has a truly magical writing style, similar to Ali Smith in that the language seems to flow across the page. I was able to read the book pretty much in one sitting because of this style, and because the story was just so compelling. I mean, just take a look at the opening paragraph – it’s compellingly imaginative:
“This new world weighs a yatto-gram. But everything is trial-size; tread-on-me tiny or blurred-out-of-focus huge. There are leaves that have grown as big as cities, and there are birds that nest in cockleshells. On the white sand there are long-toed clawprints deep as nightmares, and there are rock pools in hand-hollows finned by invisible fish.”
Ultimately, it is love that is at the heart of humanity’s possible redemption. There are many different forms of love in the novel, some highly disturbing (paedophilia is a prominent theme) and some pure. Billie and Spike – characters who will always exist and will always meet each other, somehow – have a relationship that is at the heart of every story. What’s more, they are always the same gender: in sections one and three both are female (insofar as a robot can have a gender), and in the middle section both are male. Their love develops quickly and deeply, and I think Winterson handles this beautifully. This isn’t a book about homosexuality, it’s a book in which love features heavily and it just happens to be between two characters of the same gender.
This book is simply fantastic, although sometimes I wondered whether it had overstepped slightly into pretentiousness or preachiness, so I couldn’t entirely give myself over to it. Still, get yourself somewhere cosy and warm, prepare your mind for poetic surrealism, and settle down with The Stone Gods. It’s a great way to spend a day.
“I keep myself locked as a box when it matters, and broken open when it doesn’t matter at all.”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.