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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Hardcover – 27 Oct 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 362 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape; First Edition edition (27 Oct. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224093452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224093453
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 2.5 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (362 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 173,633 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

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

"A searingly felt and expressed autobiography…Funny and profoundly hopeful – a tale of survival" (Kate Hamer Metro)

"The prose is breathtaking: witty, biblical, chatty and vigorous all at once. She defines the pursuit of happiness not as being content (which is "fleeting" and "a bit bovine"), but as the impulse to "swim upstream", the search for a meaningful life. This breathless, powerful book is that search" (Emily Strokes Financial 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 The 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 The Guardian)

Book Description

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

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
Jeanette Winterson tells us that she found words, through reading and writing, that let her examine and understand her childhood; she hopes still, through psychotherapy as well as through reading and writing, to find words that will let her examine and understand her adulthood. Words, analysis, metaphor also provide distance. They are the mirror in which JW wants safely to view the basilisk that she can not directly address.

The book is a memoir with two halves. The first is an account of JW's childhood (her adoptive mother, Constance Winterson, was savagely religious, and unhappy) from which JW escaped through literature, initially as an avid reader, then through university studies, and latterly through writing. The second is an account of JW's own adulthood unhappiness and of how through work, love, and a search for her birth mother she has attempted to manage that unhappiness. The halves are hinged by a few pages on JW's time at the University of Oxford.

The first half, the account of the misery of fifty years ago, is worn smooth by much handling, polished into anecdote and well-crafted. JW has successfully distanced herself from that misery by assembling a narrative. Emotion dominates the second half, which is gabble; sometimes ungrammatical, palpably raw, and not yet mastered. JW deploys therapists' jargon and recounts fables in an attempt to create a narrative, an accounting, for her adult unhappiness. She does not succeed. The literature that let her escape from her childhood now allows her to escape from confronting that unhappiness. The myths and metaphors stave off her misery rather than explain it.
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