... all time is always present, but buried layer by layer under what people call Now.
— Jeanette Winterson, Tanglewreck
IN THE FALL OF 1996, I traveled from Southern California to London to interview Jeanette Winterson for the Paris Review. I was in my mid-thirties (one year younger than the author) and had recently left a heterosexual marriage to embark on what would become my new life as a lesbian. I had been teaching Winterson's novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit in my college English classes since its appearance in 1985, when it catapulted Winterson onto the international stage as a serious literary figure, and so I was elated when I got this assignment.
During the weeks preceding my journey halfway around the world, I prepped by rereading all of the Winterson books I had in my possession. By that time, she had already penned a fairly substantial oeuvre: in addition to Oranges, her works included Boating for Beginners (1985); The Passion (1987); Sexing the Cherry (1989); Written on the Body (1992); Art and Lies: A Piece for Three Voices and a Bawd (1994); and Art Objects (1995), a collection of essays. I was unable to obtain a copy of her 1986 health manual, Fit for the Future: The Guide for Women Who Want to Live Well, but I didn't think it would come up in the interview. I had plenty to work on with the material at hand. I took notes, wrote out questions, and imagined how I might prevent myself from gushing, "I'm a big fan," or, "I'm a lesbian, too," or some other ridiculous phrase that would betray my utter lack of sophistication. I purchased a cassette recorder, extra AA batteries, and an ivy green wheelie bag from T. J. Maxx.
When I arrived at Hazlitt's Hotel in Soho — an eccentric structure of interconnected Georgian-era buildings, where I had booked a room because Winterson's agent recommended it as a place frequented by writers and artists — the galleys of the latest Winterson novel, Gut Symmetries, were waiting for me at the front desk. I had less than 24 hours to make sense of the new book before my appointment with the author, and as I discovered right away, it was not a light read. I stayed up most of the night in a room with floorboards tilted at odd angles and worked through the following morning, trying to wrestle the novel into submission. Because of the slanted floor, my water glass kept sliding toward the edge of the table every time I set it down; I'd have to catch it in between furiously jotting down notes and underlining. After a few hours of disoriented jetlag sleep, I got up, reviewed my materials, checked to make sure my recorder was working, and caught a cab to the Granta offices. Inside, an assistant showed me to an office, where I took ...read more