Written at a time when the Internet was a fascinating but dangerous new phenomena and full of huge possibilities, The Powerbook seeks to take the reader anywhere in time. The narrator, Ali, has set up shop in cyberspace and sells stories through a series of email interactions. She offers “freedom just for one night” to her customers, allowing them to forget who they are and take on a new persona anywhere from the past to now. Yet all these stories are about ‘Great and Ruinous Lovers’ like Guinevere and Lancelot, Tristan and Isolde, Paolo and Francesca. It is through these interactions that Ali meets her lover, who keeps coming back for more stories. Soon the reader is whisked off to Paris, Capri and London as slowly the line between storytelling and reality seems to blur as the dialogue becomes more interactive between the two lovers and more detail is given of their surroundings.
The book’s first edition is designed to open like a laptop. Chapters open with computer symbols and commands such as “VIEW AS ICON” that put the reader under the impression of reading a computer manual. The first chapter begins with symbols of male and female chromosomes ‘X’ and ‘Y’, character defining ways which can be completely discarded and changed around in cyberspace. Even gender and Identity can be discarded and reconstructed. But the writing itself also has a lyricism in its tone as Winterson repetitively emphasizes the universality of passion and feeling. This will either hammer the point home for some while switching others off.
The plot is arguably another one of Winterson’s that is all too familiar; a woman falls in love with another woman who is married and must make that ultimate decision of whether to leave her husband for her lover. Winterson’s own lesbian identity is the driving force behind this as well as her never-ending concerns with gender, sexuality and love. But what she seems to want to point out is that all stories are the same and have been told before, and so it is not what you tell but how you tell it. For Winterson, stories are not just stories, and life is not just life; they are both interlinked and define each other. The novel is carefully constructed. The stories are tied together cleverly into the structure of the greater plot that seems to almost become a subplot due to the overwhelming force of Winterson’s storytelling technique. Only the writer has any power in this book despite the impression that the title gives off of a DIY manual. What will no doubt resonate in the reader’s mind afterwards is the way in which Winterson uses technology as a tool to ornately rework some well-known stories and incidents across different cultures and history.
Done for my student placement with NAWE. Had to be 500 words. I think I did okay considering it is my review though I guess time will tell.