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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011)

by Jeanette Winterson

Other authors: T. S. Eliot (Author), Anne Sexton (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,817947,299 (4.06)265
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."
  1. 72
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    akblanchard: Both writers survive fundamentalist childhoods and difficult young adulthoods to attain a measure of serenity in middle age.
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    Adoption Papers by Jackie Kay (thorold)
    thorold: Scottish poet vs. Lancashire novelist in a race to discover their biological parents...
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    sparemethecensor: Different subject matter but similar nonlinear styles and reflective prose.

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» See also 265 mentions

English (87)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (94)
Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
When I heard that Jeanette Winterson had revisited the childhood and youth she had depicted in her autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Aren’t the Only Fruit, in the form of a memoir, I wondered why. But my wife read it and assured me it was not a retread. One reason is apparent when she writes that she is often asked by readers of Oranges if her childhood was that bad. It wasn’t, she invariably answers: it was worse. I may never shake the image of the child locked in the coal bin singing “Cheer Up, Ye Saints of God” at the top of her lungs.
The other reason is that the account of Winterson’s life until she leaves home at sixteen is accompanied by a sequel, in which she goes mad, attempts to end her life, then tracks down and meets her birth mother. I appreciated the honesty with which Winterson observed and reported her meetings with Ann. There is the recognition of physical and mental similarities, as well as Ann’s assurance, “You were wanted.” Yet this is no treacly instant family moment, beloved of genealogy-based television shows; Winterson also records her explosion at their third meeting, as she boils over with rage over the abandonment that is the deepest level of her psyche.
One woman birthed her, another raised her, and the latter, the imposing figure for whom “life was a pre-death experience,” formed Winterson. The unloved child discovered words as her refuge, books as doors to other worlds. She read her way through the local library, English Literature, A-Z. A recurrent theme is how institutions like the library and the Mechanics’ Institute, where working-class men took evening courses for improvement, sustained a community in the small town she grew up in. She is unsparing in her criticism of how the hollowing of those institutions has impoverished life.
Another institution that formed her was the Pentecostal church she attended with Mr. and Mrs. Winterson. It was another thing she left behind when she left home, but she also offers a positive description of her own baptism by immersion when she was thirteen, and she describes many of the ways the congregation added to a sense of community.
Jeanette Winterson can be unsparing both toward herself and others, but this book’s overall tone is life-affirming. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
this is my new favourite book. comfortably takes over the role of 'best book I have read this year'.
I expect I will be reading it again soon and then repeatedly.
right time, right place to be the perfect book for me. ( )
  mjhunt | Jan 22, 2021 |
This is another of those books I picked up on a whim after reading an NPR/NY Times review, with no prior knowledge of the author. I found some really likable chapters, especially when Jeanette writes about her love for the library, and how her growth is reflected through her exploration of the books. And I loved the advice she got from her librarian: "When you are young and you read something that you very much dislike, put it aside and read it again three years later. And if you still dislike it, read it again in a further three years. And when you are no longer young -- when you are fifty, as am I -- read the thing again that you disliked most of all" (126).

It did seem that the book became less coherent as the chapters progressed, and I think that this was intentional; however, I liked the book less in later chapters partly because of this, and partly because I had liked the previous chapters so much more.
( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
Some people have such a miserable childhood and still manage to survive with a sense of humour. The title of the book is revealed about midway. I enjoy this book and yet it wasn't a happy book. It wasn't a sad book though either. In spite of everything, Jeanette Winterson has come out the other side and - done well for herself. Here is a very honest, a very reflective look back on life and I'm glad I've read it! ( )
  Fliss88 | Dec 26, 2020 |
Un libro de memorias destinado a convertirse en un clásico de la literatura contemporánea.

¿Por qué ser feliz cuando puedes ser normal?, preguntó la señora Winterson a su hija Jeanette cuando ella, recién cumplidos los dieciséis años, le confesó haberse enamorado de otra chica. Extraña pregunta, pero poco más podía esperarse de una mujer que había adoptado a una niña para hacer de ella una aliada en su misión religiosa, y en cambio se las tuvo que ver con un ser extraño que pedía a gritos su porción de felicidad.

Armada con dos juegos de dentadura postiza y una pistola escondida bajo los trapos de cocina, la señora Winterson hizo lo que pudo para disciplinar a Jeanette: en casa los libros estaban prohibidos, las amistades eran mal vistas, los besos y abrazos eran gestos extravagantes, y cualquier falta se castigaba con noches enteras al raso, pero de nada sirvió. Esa chica pelirroja que parecía hija del mismo diablo se rebeló, buscando el placer en la piel de otras mujeres y encontrando en la biblioteca del barrio novelas y poemas que la ayudaran a crecer.

Eso y mucho más es lo que ofrecen estas páginas excepcionales, donde alegría y rabia andan de la mano: un libro de memorias destinado a convertirse en un clásico de la literatura contemporánea.

«Necesitaba palabras...
  ArchivoPietro | Nov 2, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 87 (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)

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jeanette Wintersonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Eliot, T. S.Authorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sexton, AnneAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Polman, MaartenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my three mothers:
Constance Winterson
Ruth Rendell
Ann S
First words
When my mother was angry with me, which was often, she said, 'The Devil led us to the wrong crib.'
When love is unreliable and you are a child, you assume that it is the nature of love - its quality - to be unreliable. Children do not find fault with their parents until later. In the beginning the love you get is the love that sets.
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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."

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