March 08, 1993 12:00 PM

by Jeanette Winterson

This fourth novel by one of Britain’s premier young authors is told by a narrator of unspecified gender, a translator of Russian literature, who has had an inordinate amount of romantic involvements with both men and women. The range of experience provides this he/she with a kind of jaded perspicacity, a calculated ability to recognize the warning signs of waning emotion and attraction in a relationship. Until, of course, the narrator develops a grand passion for a married woman named Louise and suddenly is willing to risk everything.

Winterson’s distinct sensibility can give even the most tired subject a new perspective. And only a risk-taking writer would dare to take on subjects as disparate as the inner sanctum of Napoleon’s kitchen (The Passion) or Christian fundamentalists (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit). Written on the Body, though, is somewhat less successful. For all her fascinating and idiosyncratic ideas about dwindling intimacy and the way the new technology of virtual reality might spice up life, Winterson has neglected some basics. Chief among them: setting down the necessary psychological layers of characters other than her narrator, who still does not interact enough with Louise to justify for the reader his/her subsequent retreat into depression and self-imposed exile. And gender would seem to be the last thing this passionate narrator, by turns prideful and candid, would want to conceal. (Knopf $20)

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