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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by…

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Jeanette Winterson

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1,141737,167 (4.04)142
Title:Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
Authors:Jeanette Winterson
Info:Grove Press (2012), Hardcover, 224 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:memoir, writing, queer, british

Work details

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

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Why be Happy When You Could be Normal by Jeanette Winterson - Very Good

I read Oranges are not the only fruit last year and loved it. I'd seen the tv series back in the day but hadn't realised, until reading the book, that it was semi autobiographical. This one actually is her autobiography, so it covers some of the same story, without the 'embroidery', and then takes us beyond when she left home.

We are a similar age and were brought up in similar Lancashire Mill Towns, so some of her childhood is very, very familiar. Most of it is NOT! What a start in life! If you are not aware of her and haven't read Oranges... She was adopted and brought up by a religious fanatic who threw her out of the house at age 16 when she discovered she was a lesbian.

That is pretty much where Oranges... stops. This book takes us onwards to Oxford, her post-university life, her relationships, her search for her natural mother etc.

She has a wonderful use of language and the book, whilst difficult to read of the hardships of her life, was a joy to read in other respects.

( )
  Cassandra2020 | Jan 24, 2016 |
A very powerful autobiography by an exceptional writer who looks at her past through the eyes of pain, loss, clarification and love - I started this book twice and put it down - then really decided to read it slowly - and with that I couldn't stop reading - the author painted her story with words - she was adopted in infancy and raised by a strict religious very emotionally sick mother who didn't begin to understand how to love and raise a healthy child - Jeanette had to learn to connect and to become her authentic self by healing step by step and at times losing herself in the process -

This was a very powerful book written by a brave and talented woman - she drew me in and then let me go exhausted but fulfilled. Thanks Librarything for the recommendation! ( )
  njinthesun | Jan 2, 2016 |
Based on the title of this book, and not liking to know much about a book before I read it, I thought it was going to be humorous. And it was, in places, but it was not about humor. It was about an adopted child's very difficult life, and her ability to come to terms with it.

I came to know this author not through her immensely popular Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, and I haven't seem any of the TV version. Instead, I read Ms. Winterson's retelling of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. Her The Gap of Time was extraordinary for me. And now that I know something of the author's life, it is even more meaningful.

In Why be Happy... the author writes of her dour adoptive mother who told her, “The Devil lead us to the wrong crib.” “She was a flamboyant depressive; a woman who kept a revolver in the duster drawer, and the bullets in a tin of Pledge. A woman who stayed up all night baking cakes to avoid sleeping in the same bed as my father.”

She was a woman who was just enduring life while she waited to die. A woman who locked her daughter outside all night, or in the coal bin. And not surprisingly, the author usually referred to her mother as “Mrs Winterson.”

I think writing this book must have been cathartic for the author, and it is sad. And funny. And insightful. And I want to hug the little girl that Jeanette was, and tell her that yes, she was loved. But, sadly, not by the woman who should have loved her most. And Ms, Winterson persevered, and we, her readers, are grateful for that. ( )
  TooBusyReading | Dec 26, 2015 |

I usually don't read lots of memoirs and biographies, in general I prefer fiction or non-fiction, but I must say thought that this is one of the most genuine and emotional memoirs I've ever read.

Jeannette Winterson was born in Manchester, England, and grew up in Accrington, Lacarshire after being adopted by Constance and John William Winterson in the early 1960's.

This book recounts her quest for her identity, origin, her (birth) mother and ultimately for love and acceptance.
It's a different kind of memoir in that is doesn't follows a chronological structure. She jumps back and forth between different periods in her life, and that's probably why the book feels so authentic, you have a sense that you are sitting down with a good friend while she is telling you her story.

The author comes across as a clever, witty, and as a person in search of answers. At times she writes with great urgency, almost desperation. It's feels as if she's running out of time and want to explain things to you, she wants to make sure you understand her history. Which l suppose is one of the reasons why people write these type memoirs, I think that this process provides for many emotional closure.

Winterson has a great sense of humor and is a wonderful conversationalist. Throughout the book she takes time to explain some of the cultural, religious and political ethos of these times in the UK.

There are also quite a few extremely funny anecdotes. I love that in the middle of such a difficult upbringing, the author has the capacity to laugh at some rather peculiar and crazy circumstances.

The center theme of the memoir is her descriptions of her very peculiar Pentecostal upbringing as well as her tumultuous relationship with her adoptive mother, whom she calls through most of the book "Mrs. Winterson".

Mrs. Winterson is described as an "out of scale, larger than life" woman who at times sounds pretty much deranged. A woman opposed to any sort of intimacy, sexual or otherwise, she casts a huge shadow on the Winterson's household, and little Jeannette doesn't feel loved by either parent. Her father is a withdrawn, simple man who has been belittled by his wife and is incapable of standing up for himself, let alone for his adoptive daughter.

Little Jeannette is abused, both emotionally (her mother constantly alludes that in her adoption process “the Devil led us to the wrong crib”) and physically, she is beaten, forced to sleep outside of the house, and pretty much left to her own devices at a very early age.

In Mrs. Winterson's ultra fundamentalist version of Christianity, there's not room for reading secular books, so she forbids Jeannette from reading anything other than the Bible. Jeannette doesn't obeys, of course, and when Mrs. W discovers dozens of books hidden under Jeannette's mattress, she burns them all. This was to me a painful passage to read(as I am sure it would be for most readers)

Later on, Mrs. Winterson discovers that Jeannette is attracted to women and has in fact started a relationship with a girl that also attends her church, this sets in motion a series of events, culminating with the spectacle of a 3-day exorcism performed by the pastor who tries to, to put it on contemporary terms "pray the gay away".

When Jeannette is 16 years old, she is evicted from her home after Mrs. W discovers a 2nd girlfriend, initially she lives in her car, but shortly after she gets under a roof, when a sympathetic teacher takes pity on her and allows her to stay in her house.

Jeannette stars reading English Literature in Prose A-Z, as she calls it. There's a very good public library in her town, and she's determined to read all the available authors in alphabetical order. "A book is a door,” she discovers “You open it. You step through.”

Eventually she applies “to read English at Oxford because, "it was the most impossible thing” she could think of; she graduates, she writes books and becomes a well known and successful author.

The memoir then makes a big jump, and for whatever reason the author decides to take her story 25 years later, when she has just broken up with her girlfriend of 6 years. This is when her writing becomes more introspective, a search to connect the past with the present.
By now, Mrs. W has passed away and Jeannette has managed to maintain an almost normal relationship with her father.

The author then begins the search for her birth mother, which is perhaps where the reader can feel a deeper sense of empathy and connection with her. She is desperate to find that final link to her past, yet she's also petrified by fear of what she might find. Who can't relate to that feeling?

After jumping many hoops throughout the inept and insensible bureaucracy that apparently rules the adoption system in the UK (I suspect, the same is true in the US and other Western countries), she manages to find Ann, her birth mother, makes peace with her and her decision to give Jeannette away.

Of course, this being real life, there's not exactly a happy ending, not in the strict sense of the word anyway, so after her first meeting with Ann, she quickly comes to the realization that the instant connection she might had been anticipating does not come.

Finally, I think that what saves Jeannette Winston is that she possesses both a very clever and inquisitive mind as well as an indomitable and defiant personality.

By the end of the book, she appears to have accomplish an exorcism of her own: what starts as a detailed and painful description of the horrible mother, ends with a sense of closure and forgiveness.
When referring to a discussion she had with Ann, she says "I notice that I hate Ann criticizing Mrs. Winterson. She was a monster but she was my monster". We humans are full of contradictions, aren't we?

Jeannette Winterson is the audiobook narrator of her memoir, I am for the most part, not a fan of authors narrating their own books and I do preferred that they leave this to the professionals, with that said, Winterson really did a wonderful job. Perhaps because of the 1st person narrative and also because her writing style is so intense, I don't imagine anybody else being able to narrate this book as well as she did.

This is an unforgettable and extraordinary memoir. ( )
2 vote irisper012106 | Nov 1, 2015 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 67 (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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