Why be happy when you could be normal – a review

Author: Jeanette Winterson

Title: Why be happy when you could be normal?

Katherine’s Pick

Jeanette Winterson is  the  author who shot to prominence when  her novel  “Orangesare not the only Fruit” was published  in the 1990’s. Original and riveting it is  about growing up in Manchesterin the 1960’s, she is adopted into a fundamentalistic, apocalyptic Christian family.    She  depicts her mother as  a grotesque monster with an ineffectual husband,  who makes the young  Jess’s life a misery,  finally she breaks free and leaves home at sixteen.  The novel was made into a groundbreaking and controversial BBC series which won awards and made Winterson  an overnight success  in the world of comtemporary English literature.

This memoir written 25 years on, is a  thoughtful look at her past and by writing about it, she  is  clearly  attempting  to come to terms with the  trauma and issues of abandonment that she continues to  struggle with.   Winterson’s  relationship with the domineering and decidedly eccentric Mrs Winterson  was obviously damaging  and yet,  ironically was the making of the young Jeanette who is depicted as  bright and individualistic and who learns to live in her imagination and  acquires the resilience that she needs to be a successful writer.

The theme of being an outsider runs throughout this account of her life, she was adopted, she didn’t fit in at school and although a bright child didn’t do well, when she comes out and declares herself to be gay,   her mother the bigoted Mrs Winterson  rejects her.  She come from a working class family and has to  to  fit into the mileu of Oxford University. 

Winterson is a successful and accomplished writer,   yet throughout this memoir she clearly grapples with an acute sense of loss, which she feels  has made her vunerable and led to this  eventual  mental breakdown.  The latter part of her memoir describes her search for sanity, her birth mother and a  happy  relationship.  The frankness with which Winterson writes is disarming and draws you into her world, her journey is never dull and the reader is left feeling that she is back on track.  I am sure that there there will be more engaging writings yet to come from Winterson.

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