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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? [Paperback]

Jeanette Winterson
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (259 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 April 2012

In 1985 Jeanette Winterson's first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, was published. It was Jeanette's version of the story of a terraced house in Accrington, an adopted child, and the thwarted giantess Mrs Winterson. It was a cover story, a painful past written over and repainted. It was a story of survival.

This book is that story's the silent twin. It is full of hurt and humour and a fierce love of life. It is about the pursuit of happiness, about lessons in love, the search for a mother and a journey into madness and out again. It is generous, honest and true.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (12 April 2012)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 009955609X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099556091
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (259 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester and read English at Oxford, during which time she wrote her first novel, the Whitbread award winning Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Tanglewreck, Jeanette's first novel for children, was published to great critical acclaim in 2006. In the same year she was awarded an OBE for services to literature.

Product Description


"Unforgettable. It's the best book I have ever read about the cost of growing up." (Daisy Goodwin Sunday Times)

"Vivid, unpredictable, and sometimes mind-rattling memoir... This book... which had been funny enough to make me laugh out loud more times than is advisable on the No 12 bus - turns into something raw and unnerving" (Julie Myerson Observer)

"This is certainly the most moving book of Winterson's I have ever read... but it wriggles with humour... At one point I was crying so much I had tears in my ears. There is much here that is impressive, but what I find most unusual about it is the way it deepens one's sympathy, for everyone involved" (Zoe Williams Guardian)

"In the 26 years since the publication of her highly acclaimed first novel, Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson has proved herself a writer of startling invention, originality and style. Her combination of the magical and the earthy, the rapturous and the matter-of-fact, is unique. It is a strange and felicitous gift, as if the best of Gabriel Garcia Marquez was combined with the best of Alan Bennett... This remarkable account is, among other things, a powerful argument for reading... This memoir is brave and beautiful, a testament to the forces of intelligence, heart and imagination. It is a marvellous book and generous one" (Spectator)

"Both inspiring and appalling, its cruellest details only made digestible by the restrained elegance of Winterson's prose" (Independent on Sunday)

Book Description

The shocking, heart-breaking - and often very funny - true story behind Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
241 of 246 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? 27 Oct 2011
Although one should never buy a book for its cover, I must admit that I was drawn to this book by the photograph on the front and by the title: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?' Jeanette Winterson chose this title because it was her adoptive mother's response to the news that Winterson was gay - so the title might just as easily have been: `Why me? What have I done to deserve a daughter like you?' Speculation aside, I must say that whatever the title, I am glad that the author decided to write this memoir.

In 1985 Winterson published her first novel: `Oranges are not the only Fruit' and this novel was acknowledged to be partly autobiographical. It tells the story of a girl who was adopted in her infancy by Pentecostal parents. When I read `Oranges' years ago and found out that it was partly based on fact, I thought the worst bits were most probably the fiction parts- not so. Winterson's book tells us that her childhood wasn't quite as that depicted in `Oranges' - it was worse, and that she found it necessary to invent kind people like Testifying Elsie. She writes: "There was no Elsie. There was no one like Elsie. Things were much lonelier than that".

This new book is full of wonderful stories, some funny, some very sad, some that must have been painful to write about. For the reader it may sound amusing to hear of Mrs Winterson striding past Woolworth's shouting "A Den of Vice"; past Marks and Spencer announcing that "The Jews killed Christ"; or marching past the funeral parlour and the pie shop saying "They share an oven" - but Winterson must have had very mixed feelings at the time. She goes on to tell us how Mrs Winterson was not a welcoming woman: "If anyone knocked at the door she ran down the lobby and shoved a poker through the letter box".
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving, funny, unreliable literary "memoir" 1 Dec 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Jeanette Winterson's narrative - part-memoir, part-reflection on the multiple lives we lead - is a fascinating tour through the projections of a complex mind. She talks repeatedly about the non-linearity of our lives, about the illusion of time and our multi-directional movement through it: how remembered experiences are as real to us now (realer?) as they were when we first had them. What I feel she's doing is setting herself up as the ultimate unreliable narrator. She isn't out to con her readers, or herself; simply, she's acknowledging life's ever shifting pattern and the impossibility of pinning down people or places, or the past (and present) itself.

What I'm saying is, don't read this as autobiography. Read it as another layer of stories, inspired by events, but aware of the stories behind it, and those still to come.

It's funny and raw. Outstanding moments for me included the dog biscuit factory, the time she took her pal Vicky home to Accrington for Christmas - Vicky's first encounter with End Time!!! - and the description of how Winterson tried to kill herself.

I loved it. I think JW would be the most amazing dinner guest!
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing, soaring and pithy prose - read it 20 Nov 2011
I am a recent convert to Jeanette Winterson, having seen her interviewed for the first time a year or so ago, and been intrigued.

This is the 4th of her books that I have read and is my favourite to date. She has a way of using words that makes prose sing like poetry. Each sentence is exquisitely pared down and no word is left to chance; each is chosen specifically and carefully for its effect.

She was appallingly uncared for and unloved as a child growing up in the house of the awesome Mrs Winterson (her father is all but absent throughout her formative years, although he shares the house with them). Her mistreatment is dealt with in a cool and objective detachment which belies her rage and fear of rejection.

This is a disturbing and beautiful memoir which brims with hope and love. Read it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jeanette finding "home" 17 Mar 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
I had not read nor seen "Oranges are not the only fruit", though I wish to after reading this memoir. It is one of those books which you re-read certain paragraphs, like savouring just one more chocolate out of the box. I found the book very moving and although it appears Jeanette has been through so much, she is both vulnerable and empowering. She tries to berate, forgive and understand her godfearing mother who has her own difficulties in trying to love.
"her suffering was her armour. Gradually it became her skin. Then she could not take it off"
At times it is so painful to read and at others so funny. She does not spend much time talking about her university years which seemed a pity as she was described as an "experiment" by one tutor, being a working class northern girl who fought her way to her place there. The book references her refuge into literature and her desire to read her way through the authors in the Accrington library from a-z as well as poetic quotes which she describes as providing the narrative to deal with difficult emotions.

The story drives Jeanette in her succession of battered simple old cars through her relationships with her mother, lovers, literature and love itself arriving to her own version of home.
A very funny and emotional journey.
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65 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wise, amusing and insightful 29 Oct 2011
Jeanette Winterson's experience of growing up without knowing her birth parents is wise, amusing and insightful. Her descriptions of working class family life, poverty and social history are reflective and to the point without being overtly judgemental or self-pitying. Her straightforward style of prose makes this book accessible to a wide range of readers.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Really interesting and a lovely writing style
The autobiography of Jeanette Winterson is a masterfully written monologue which is more than a list of events, oh so much more. Read more
Published 1 day ago by The Bookish Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Wonderful read.
Published 2 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great, thank you
Published 2 days ago by Babalina
5.0 out of 5 stars I can't grab my thoughts!
I laughed and I cried, and I don't do much of the latter. This book has helped me identify something in myself and almost approve it to be "ok" (normal). Thank you.
Published 6 days ago by notthedoc
3.0 out of 5 stars It's just ok
When this book was chosen for the book club I wasn't happy. I thought that it would be too upsetting or that it would make me laugh. It did neither. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ag siúl
5.0 out of 5 stars intelligent and emotional
I read this book having read Oranges many years before. I'd also been to hear the author in conversation with Stephen Grosz and was interested in the self psychoanalytic aspect. Read more
Published 1 month ago by DrSwarm
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving
Brilliant book. A moving but balanced account. Highly recommended. Well written but accessible. Funny, frank, though provoking. Couldn't put it down.
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. Lisa Morgan
5.0 out of 5 stars Unwrapping a somersault of living and surviving so far.
Having read Oranges many years ago I am going to re-read it with a fresher perspective. These memoirs retain humour, candour and pain, but have a greater sense of calm, mature... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ms C. K. Russell-Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring
I loved this biography, nothing less than I expected from a great writer, a great woman, feminist and a strong character.
Published 1 month ago by L. Goldsmith
4.0 out of 5 stars hidden from view
The author we know writes well, but I still feel she doesn't release it all.
Brave sad and humbling truth.
Published 1 month ago by Ellen Best
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