239 of 244 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
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...
Published on 27 Oct 2011 by Susie B
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Partial autobiography?
Easy reading and great chapter division in true Winterson style. Summed up by her self- "I never could write a story with a beginnning a middle and an end."
It was intriguing to see what was her and what wasn't from Oranges- particularly after all the speculation in the 80's. I also enjoyed considering her reflection of what Oranges represented when published...
Published 22 months ago by Germilken
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239 of 244 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?,
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". Let's hope no one was looking through it at the time.
Winterson found refuge in the public library where she devoured books that she was unable to read openly at home; if she wasn't reading at the library, she would sit in the outside lavatory, or on the front step where she often found herself locked out overnight. When Mrs Winterson finds Jeanette's hidden cache of paperbacks, she burns them in the backyard. "F*** it" thinks Winterson, "I can write my own" - and the rest, up to a certain extent, is history. Winterson does well enough academically to get into Oxford, she gets her first book published and goes on to have a successful literary career. However that is not all. This memoir relates how Winterson falls in love with women, how her adoptive mother reacts to the knowledge that her daughter, instead of becoming a missionary, has become a lesbian and has paved her way to hell. We learn about Winterson's search for love and of her search for her birth mother and we learn a lot more in this honest, fierce, poignant and ultimately uplifting memoir. Wonderful.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving, funny, unreliable literary "memoir",
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!
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing, soaring and pithy prose - read it,
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.
65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wise, amusing and insightful,
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jeanette finding "home",
This review is from: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Regrets, Errors, Failures.,
This review is from: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Paperback)This wasn't quite what I was expecting but I loved it all the same. It's quite rare (I think) for an autobiography to focus in detail on the early part of the subject's life and then the most recent part, but to miss out the whole of the middle bit (almost twenty years?) - in this case, the chapters between university and starting the search for her biological mother. Winterson has already covered the first part herself in semi-fictional terms in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, and the second part is a not unfamiliar tale of bureaucratic misery and the very mixed emotions that arise during the un-ravelling of an adoption. But where this book succeeds on every page is the quality of the writing and the honesty of expression. At her adoptive father's funeral she quotes from her eulogy where she says that what she regrets in life "aren't the errors of judgement but failures of feeling". It's impossible to read this book and have any such failing.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, brutal, honest and sad,
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, easy to read autobiography,
This review is from: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Kindle Edition)The author returns to her childhood that was first described in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Once again we meet Mrs Winterson,the woman who adopts Jeanette.A woman typical of pentecostal Lancashire ladies who hold strong opinions on lesbians and anyone else who fails to live within their ideals of respectable sexual behaviour. Some of this is very funny.In this book Jeanette Winterson reviews growing up in Manchester as an adopted child,finding her birth mother , coming to terms with her sexual orientation and her life so far.
The most convincing parts of the book are her arguments for the retention of well stocked public libraries as places for poor, working class children to find a quiet space to work and read.Less enjoyable is some of the name dropping and slightly self indulgent political discussion.
The difficulties of her adoption and building a relationship with her birth mother are touchingly described.A very enjoyable read.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and revelatory,
It's delightful to see her work soaring once more.
Sherlock Holmes and the Flying Zombie Death Monkeys
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't recommend it to all...,
This review is from: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Paperback)I read ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT years ago - probably ten years ago, when I was studying at university. Reading a book as a text for a course can go either of two ways; you can either really get into it, loving the process of studying all elements of it; or you can come to loathe it, studying it because you have to and so maybe not connecting to the personal aspect of the work. I remember 'enjoying' it, although it was never regarded as one of my favourites. However, embarrassingly, I cannot remember a great deal about what happened; just a vague idea that it was semi-autobiographical and involved the story of a young girl who is adopted into a very religious family. WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL, is brought to us as the 'twin' to ORANGES.
In some ways, my first problem (if that's the right word) with WHY BE HAPPY was that I could not recollect what happened in ORANGES. I wasn't sure if I was missing out on anything, having read ORANGES so long ago. But, bizarrely, I also felt at times that I was perhaps going over ground that was already covered by ORANGES. Quite a juxtaposition. Finally, I found myself reading WHY BE HAPPY with almost a running commentary to myself, reminding me that this one is the memoir so it didn't matter, in some ways, what came before.
Overall, I did enjoy WHY BE HAPPY. Other reviewers have commented that the amount of introspection was off-putting to them. Personally, I did not find this a problem. My idea of a memoir is that there should be introspection. In the case of WHY BE HAPPY, the introspection here enables us as a reader to understand why Winterson has the writing style that she does. Although I can't remember the exact quote, she refers to writing in fragments and comparing this to how she feels and views her life; that she never had the complete picture. She also comments on recurring themes within her work - love, both how to love and how to be loved and the issues around loss being just two of these.
As another reviewer has stated, the latter part of the book brings us closer to the present, as she discusses her decision to trace her birth mother. I found this particular section of the book very touching. Her honesty in writing about adoption and the many issues this brings up for individuals is very poignant. It also makes you realise just why she had to give us all that proceeds this section. When talking about Mrs Winterson, Jeanette defends her saying that she may have been a monster, but she was her monster.
So, would I recommend this book? Although I have awarded it four stars, I'm not completely sure. I do not think that I would recommend this to the majority of my friends, perhaps instead just the ones who may have some interest in either the power of books/ stories or those who have some interest in issues around adoption.
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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson