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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by…

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Jeanette Winterson

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1,080687,731 (4.03)140
Title:Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
Authors:Jeanette Winterson
Info:Vintage (2011), 230 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:memoir, dysfunctional families, literature, adoption

Work details

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson (2011)

  1. 62
    Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (Anonymous user)
  2. 10
    Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron (librorumamans)
  3. 00
    Ghost Waltz: A Family Memoir by Ingeborg Day (sparemethecensor)
    sparemethecensor: Different subject matter but similar nonlinear styles and reflective prose.
  4. 00
    The Adoption Papers by Jackie Kay (thorold)
    thorold: Scottish poet vs. Lancashire novelist in a race to discover their biological parents...
  5. 00
    Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber (akblanchard)
    akblanchard: Both writers survive fundamentalist childhoods and difficult young adulthoods to attain a measure of serenity in middle age.

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Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
Current review:

One of those books that makes you want to read a paragraph aloud at least once a page. This book will make you annoying to your family. Read it anyway.

Previous review:

Just. Too. Good.

I had to return it to the library today. I'm going to put it on my wish list so I'll have a copy of my own to fill with Post-it notes. In the meantime, I posted lots of quotes on my Facebook Book Nerds page. ( )
  Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
Why be happy when you could be normal? by Jeanette Winterson
Accrington, England and the story begins just before she is adopted by the Winterson. The story follows the life of the girl and the struggles throughout the years.
When she turns 16 she leaves, she is a lesbian and the family is very religious. Each have their own routines and it's quite plain and boring. No car so they walk everywhere, usually miles per day.
Lots of quoting from the Bible and from literary works. Troubled times as she doesn't fit in and manages to find her mother and they do meet. Lots of questions and lots of answers to those. ( )
  jbarr5 | Jun 30, 2015 |
Jeanette Winterson was a giant in my young life. I think I hopped off the train at Lighthousekeeping, which I may revisit, but which didn't seem to have the force of Oranges or Sexing the Cherry. Her work hasn't had an active presence in my mind for a few years, acting more like part of the foundation or a constellation in my firmament. I chanced upon her reading from her memoir at AWP. She was supposed to read with Allison Bechdel, who canceled, so she just expanded. It was great. What a book to happen upon when you're in a rut and your leisure reading feels like homework and you want need something to take you back to reading as play, as salvation. By turns it is an: adoption narrative, biography of her mother, coming of age story, snapshot of industrial North England through the lens of a working class evangelical family. It would have been easy for Winterson to frame her mother as a monster or to expose evangelical christianity as total bunk, but she doesn't. As she discusses towards the end of the book, her approach is to resist easy dualisms. Plus it's impossible to imagine her writing herself into the role of victim. Wounded, emotional, shaped by her circumstances but not a victim. The end felt messy, I think, for the same reasons that it was such an engaging read - I was happy with the genre bending, but then I wanted it neatly tied up. Ultimately, I'm glad Winterson didn't give in and write the payoff ending that readers are so conditioned to want.

The parts about books and reading really got to me. She visited her local library and set herself the goal of reading through the section labelled "English Literature: A-Z". How encountering Nabokov made her a feminist. Stacking books under her mattress only to have her mother burn them. I die! Being part of a literary community sometimes has the paradoxical effect of obscuring the simple and profound truth that reading and writing have the power to save you. There, inner snarker - I said it! This is the truth I live by.
( )
  oh_that_zoe | May 21, 2015 |
Jeanette Winterson is the author of several novels, including Oranges are not the Only Fruit, which brought her recognition and fame, especially in the UK. Oranges was semi-autobiographical; this memoir is the real story of her unconventional upbringing. The adopted daughter of a domineering, sexually repressed, fanatically religious mother, Jeanette was subject to emotional and physical abuse until she left home at sixteen. Through a near miracle she earned a place at Oxford and was able to realize her dream of becoming a writer. But while she appeared outwardly successful, the scars of abuse had not even begun to heal. Convinced she had never been loved and was unable to love others, she became estranged from her parents and found it difficult to be in relationship with others.

Jeanette’s journey through these trials is fascinating and turbulent. It took me a while to become
emotionally invested in her story, but I got there, and when she began searching for her birth mother, I admired her tenacity and was reminded of a quote early in the book:
I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it.

I admire Jeanette Winterson for never doing “the sensible thing.” ( )
  lauralkeet | Jan 25, 2015 |
'Why be happy when you can be normal?' asks Jeanette Winterson's adoptive mother (tellingly always referred to as Mrs Winterson, rather than anything more affectionate) on the day when, aged 16 and still at school, Jeanette is thrown out of the family home. But Mrs Winterson is anything but normal: the extreme nature of Mrs Winterson's Pentecostal Christian beliefs (church everyday and all day on Sundays) would prevent this in the small Northern town of Accrington where she was brought up. Religious texts abound: Mrs Winterson puts quotes from scripture into Jeanette's hockey boots, and all over the house. 'Linger not at the Lord's business' and 'He shall melt thy bowels like wax' are the ones chosen for the outside toilet. And Mrs Winterson's feeling of superiority to her neighbours combined with her religious sensibilities resulted in some odd choices:

'Back in the days of Winterson-world we had a set of Victorian watercolours hung on the walls. Mrs W. had inherited them from her mother and she wanted to display them in a family way. But she was dead against 'graven images' (See Exidus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, etc) so she squares this circle by hanging them back to front. All we could see was brown paper, tape, steel tacks, water staining and string. That was a Mrs Winterson version of life.'

But Mrs Winterson is clearly also a deeply disturbed woman who is disappointed both in life and in her adopted daughter. Jeanette's childhood is the sort that today would get social services involved very quickly, in fact it is surprising that it did not so so even in the 1960s and 70s. Being locked out of the house all night, being locked into the coal cellar, and regular beatings formed part of her normal experience, culminating in an exorcism in her teenage years to drive out the demons that were supposedly attracting her to other girls. Books were Jeanette's refuge, but books were also for forbidden, and her growing book collection (hidden under her mattress from prying eyes) goes up in smoke when discovered by her mother.

This is a more factual retelling of the fictionalised events of Winterson's first novel Oranges are Not the Only Fruit. I've read Oranges are not the Only Fruit twice and seen the award winning BBC production maybe twice as well, so I'm very familiar with that the fictional version. How someone who had not read the earlier book would approach this one I'm not sure, as it is frequently referred to and points of difference pointed out. One of these differences is 'Testifying Elsie', an old woman who acts as a bulwark against the wrath of Jeanette's mother in the earlier book. A character who was written in because she couldn't bear to leave her out. But in real life 'There was no Elsie. there was no one like Elsie. Things were much lonelier than that'

This isn't a conventional memoir, vast swathes of Jeanette's adult life are missed out, but as she focuses on her relationship with her adoptive mother, and her attempts to find her real mother it's a format that seems to work. Clearly damaged to by her upbringing, this is an honest attempt by Jeanette Winterson to recognise who and what has made her who she is today, and to come to terms with the good as well as the bad. Recommended, especially for those who have enjoyed Oranges are not the Only Fruit. ( )
5 vote SandDune | Jan 15, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
Where Winterson's debut, a tragic-comic tale of a young girl who is adopted by Pentecostal missionaries in Accrington, offered us a semi-fictionalised version of her childhood, her latest describes the reality. And what a hellish reality it was. Winterson's story is one of abandonment, loneliness, madness and defiance. It is both inspiring and appalling, its cruellest details only made digestible by the restrained elegance of Winterson's prose.
This is certainly the most moving book of Winterson's I have ever read, and it also feels like the most turbulent and the least controlled.
added by thorold | editThe Guardian, Zoe Williams (Nov 4, 2011)
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To my three mothers:
Constance Winterson
Ruth Rendell
Ann S
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When my mother was angry with me, which was often, she said, 'The Devil led us to the wrong crib.'
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This memoir is a tough-minded search for belonging, for love, an identity, a home, and a mother by the author of "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit"--winner of the Whitbread First Novel award and the inspiration behind the award-winning BBC television adaptation "Oranges."… (more)

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