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on 12 January 2014
I heard Jeanette Winterson talking on the radio. She is a very interesting speaker and I wanted to learn more about her. It lots of ways the book is very informative, but also gives quick snapshots of her life that are so sad, but told with humour and great observation skills. She painted a vivid picture of the North of England in the 1950's and the portrayal of the lady who adopted her is masterful. I also liked the way her great feeling for place/setting was cleverly linked to her personality. Not a book to read if you are already feeling sad, but a real testimony to the human spirit. A very good read that shows a lady with great insight, strength and humour.
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on 20 September 2013
Jeanette Winterson's life could be a Dickens melodrama. An adopted child brought up in a 1960s Lancashire town of no great distinction by parents who were all too distinctive: timid, sex-starved husband; religious maniac mother who is borderline bonkers (and occasionally well across the line if the book is accurate). Throw in dawning awareness of her own homosexuality and a brain good enough to win a place at Oxford and you have a story which would be worth telling by any author. This author is, however, an exceptional writer. Descriptions are pin sharp. The Lancashire I too remember from the 1960s is vividly and very accurately described. The strains between Jeanette and her mother are at times agonising to read, as are the passages of here later life and relationships, yet all is crafted in prose which is utterly compelling to read and greatly moving.

A stunning book which should be read by everyone with any interest in good writing or even just a good story. Buy it.
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on 31 August 2012
Jeanette Winterson, Why be Happy when you could be Normal?
Jeanette Winterson's earlier novel, Oranges are not the only Fruit, made famous by being televised, did not claim or aim to be strictly autobiographical; this later book is closer to actual events. It provides a very partial but absorbing account of two phases of Winterson's life: the early years with her dominant adoptive mother and non-interventionist adoptive father, and the later successful (but ultimately disappointing?) search for her birth mother. I found the book to be a strange mixture of revelation and concealment: `this is how it was - well, perhaps.' In fact the author quotes with approval Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein both of whom `were collapsing the space between fact and fiction' (p. 118).
She admits puzzlement at some of the contrary characteristics observed in people at church, their down-to-earth kindness and willingness to help coupled with dogmatic views leading to harsh rejection of those who failed to conform to expectations. There is plenty of criticism of the Old Testament and the Church but I didn't register any criticism of Jesus. I heard a Radio 3 interview many years ago in which Winterson spoke about how she herself used to go preaching and healing (I hope I have not collapsed a fiction into remembered fact) but I don't think this is mentioned in either book. There is a strenuous attempt to understand her strange, angry, dogmatic, self-deluded mother which I found moving. As always Winterson writes elegantly and engagingly and her subject matter (especially her leading lady) is bizarre and fascinating. A wonderful read.
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on 18 February 2013
I have read and been riveted by Oranges are Not the Only Fruit so was immediately interested when I heard about this autobiography. It did not disappoint. I was swept into Winterson's world and spent equal amounts of time laughing and crying. She tells her story with such insight and forgiveness giving a new dimension on her adoptive mother and father from Oranges and explaining the woman she has become. The absence of Elsie and oboe playing Miss Jewsberry made her upbringing seem bleaker but wonderful additions into her story breathe life into the Accrington and the warm hearts and humanity of those she has come into contact with over the years. The second part of the narrative was gripping. In order to avoid spoiling it I won't say much of the content, just believe that I read late into the night to find out how it ended. This book has spoiled me. I have not properly enjoyed any book since as they are not written as well or anyway as meaningful as this.
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on 2 June 2013
Jeanette Winterson is an amazing writer. What an incredible childhood! The fact that she survived to be as 'normal' as she appears is just astonishing. Her descriptions of the privations of her youth are so matter of fact that it is some while before you can comprehend that they are fact and not fiction. Whilst feeling desperately sad for her, it is impossible to pity her as she has clearly coped with it all and come out as a strong, if (somewhat) flawed personality. The flaws are things like being unable to accept that anyone could love her - and who can blame her. I would like to know so much more about the parents (especially her father) as they are the ones who I did really end up pitying. What a ghastly life they made for themselves! A wonderful read and a book I know I will revisit.
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on 24 December 2012
Let's put it this way... I have rarely used the highlighting function on my Kindle, unless I'm reading academically, but from the off in this book I just HAD to highlight so many lines and paragraphs, so that I could find them again and again as required. Winterson's style, her ability to express the inexplicable is just a joy. The simple clarity she finds to write so many human complexities is awesome. I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end. For me it was brilliant and unforgettable. I would suggest that every woman reads it!
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on 10 January 2013
For those of you who have read "Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit" or seen the film of the book - the publishers describe this as "that story's silent twin".

Like her own birth mother, I was pregnant as a teenager in the never-had-it-so-good sixties Britain, where unmarried mothers were treated abysmally. I have quietly carried the wound of separation ever since. It helped me to read the scenario from the adoptee's viewpoint, and did much to heal this wound, because very few women would choose to abandon their babies.

The narrative is essentially Jeanette's search for a sense of belonging, both to her concept of "home" and to the important people in her life. Her wry wit and candour are woven into every word, and she appears to have retrospective wisdom about her experience - often traumatic, sometimes hilarious. She realises that she couldn't be the daughter that either her biological mother or Mrs Winterson wanted. It is fascinating when she admits: "I notice that I hate Ann criticising Mrs W. She was a monster but she was MY monster."

I found it gratifying that she eventually fought through burocratic barriers in her determination to find her birth mother. She describes Ann as "generous and kind" and writes: "She would like me to let her be my mother.....and to be in touch regularly." Jeanette finds this problematic, and sums up the dilhemma of child placement and reunions: "Whatever adoption is, it isn't instant family - not with the adoptive parents and not with the rediscovered parents."
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on 24 March 2017
What a beautifully written story, full of honesty. I could relate to so much that was told. I didn't understand the title before reading the book but by half way through it became so clear. Thank you to the author for having the courage to share your vulnerability, with such clarity and humility.
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on 19 May 2016
Enjoyed this very much. Shocking and sad at times but also extremely funny and written with some sympathy for those who made her life so difficult. I heard her not long after reading this on 'Question Time' and whatever happened in her early life has certainly not prevented her from becoming a very strong, articulate woman, as we also know from her other writings.
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on 4 April 2017
Fabulous writing about a complicated life. Honest and interesting story.
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