Art and Lies – A vague, and tantalizing title that fits right in with the obscurities of your local best little book store. A piece for three voices and a bawd as the subtitle suggests, the narrative swings between Handel, Picasso, Sappho, and the bawdy voice of one Doll Sneerpiece rising from her eighteenth century autobiography.
While the title tilts towards pretentiousness, the story has an interesting premise. Handel is both a ‘handle’ on the narrative, the composer and a modern day doctor of a guiltily unscientific mind; Sappho is the ancient Greek poet, hardly discernable from her modern day beat poet persona; Picasso is the brilliant, mad painter, and the daughter of a dysfunctional family.
Set in the new age of insensitivity and suffering, the three protagonists move swiftly in their confused attempts to salvage their humanity, their paths interweaving. The tangled threads make for an interesting sort of art which Winterson uses to explore the characters in their ex-religious, self-conscious logic, their alienation within their own homes, and their need to break through flesh to the spirit of something higher.
Don’t be put off by the determined use of drippy prose-poetry, or the chaotic placement of pointers within the story. The book makes for a quick, heady read, and while Winterson’s argument may not always stand up in-depth reading, her towering concept of philosophy of art gets a fair, entertaining, and honest treatment.