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WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU CAN BE NORMAL? By Jeanette Winterson
World Book Night Edition April 23rd 2013
I was chosen as a given for World Book Night and the book I was giving was this one. I had not previously read it so I decided to keep one copy after I had given the other nineteen away and take this lone copy with me on holiday and I would then give it to someone on my travels.
The author also wrote "Oranges are not the only Fruit' which she also adapted for TV as well. This book is not a follow up but more of an explanation and filling in the gaps of 'Oranges'. In 'Oranges' she retold her life story as an adoptee into the Winterson family but it was her version, a version she adapted to make her feel comfortable as the true story she found too uncomfortable to tell.
This book sort of fills in those gaps and you feel her hurt and we read about her very strange adopted family life. As I read I began to wonder how this extremely odd and rather unpleasant woman actually managed to adopt a child. Why did she do it as she obviously didn't have strong maternal feelings?
As a book it is not difficult to read as the author has an easy style, almost conversational. She appears to have a very religious background as church and the activities around the church was her social life as a child. Mrs Winterson or Mrs W as the author calls her adoptive mother , was also very religious in the fact that she attended church and the events around the church including sort of family camps. And this appears to be the time she was happiest.
Mrs W was apparently a large lady who spent most of the time being miserable. Jeanette spent many a night locked out of the house sitting on the doorstep, sometimes she was lucky and the adoptive father returned and let her in. He appears to have not ever challenged Mrs W and she never made a scene when Jeanette was let in again. The adoptive parents never slept together so if father was home Mrs W got up and did baking and so on all night and then went to bed during the day. For some time young Jeanette shared the room but they they created a bathroom and small bedroom for her so that they had an upstairs bathroom not just the outside loo.
The story she tells is quite shocking; not by social service standards but still she had a very strange childhood as Mrs W pied on her the whole time. She wasn't allowed book sin the house even though Mrs W did read aloud to J and the father on some evenings. She did censor the books though as J found out when she re read them herself.
Considering this strange up bringing it is a wonder that this lady ended up at Oxford and became the author she is today. She has been able to use her experiences and create her writing from these. A bit like many talented artist who are very emotionally unstable yet create amazing pictures.
I was amazed how open and candid her writing was and indeed Mrs W was not impressed at all with 'Oranges' and I imagine this one won't be too popular either with her. The title comes from when J had a relationship with another girl. She told Mrs W that this girl made her happy when she was with her. Te answer she got from Mrs W was the title of the book!
I did find that the author told a fairly heart wrenching story but somehow managed to inject her own sort of humour which lightened the read. The quote on the front of the book from the Sunday Times sums it up perfectly : " Brave, funny, hearbreaking." What I find interesting is that the book dedicated to her "Three mothers" The woman who adopted her Constance Winterson, Ruth Rendell, the author who is a very close friend and Anne who is her birth mother whom she managed to trace during the writing of this book.
Despite finding this interesting and easy to read, I can't say I will go rushing to find more of this author's work. I am not sure what it is but somehow I found here soul bearing a little too much; I didn't mind the parts when she was a child but I am not sure I wanted to read about her lesbian relationships as that to me is like talking about your marriage and your sex life which I find too personal and not something I want to share with the world at large.
I would certainly be upset if my husband wrote a book about our relationship and published it so I am not sure how her lovers/ partners would feel about being put into print for everyone to read. I am certainly not at all tempted to read' Oranges' after reading this book. Some of her other may be less personal. It wasn't that this was openly discussing her sex life , it was more about her feelings and emotions that I found a bit too personal.
I suspect some of her other books might be less of her personal story so might give one of those a try if I come across one for free but I wouldn't spend good money on them. They are well written and I can't quite put my finger on why I wasn't too keen on this one but it just didn't do it for me. I smiled at some things and felt annoyed at other and very sorry that a young girl should have been put into that situation but it just missed it for me.
I will be very interests to hear from some of the people who I gave the book to what they thought. Quite a few of my friends who are readers I gave the book to because they promised to pass it on to a non reader so that was more people got to enjoy the book.
I have not been a giver before but was very impressed with how smoothly the process went. I was also impressed with Vantage the publisher of this as the book has been printed on Holmen book paper which is carbon neutral. The books were all delivered by Yodel UK parcel delivery service to retailers . This is a fabulous thing that so many companies and people come together to make possible and I do hope it continues in years to come.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same username.
Why be happy when you could be normal? Jeanette Winterson writes that this is what her mother said when she was told her adoptive daughter was gay. The title is appropriate. This is the author's memoir of a somewhat sad upbringing dominated by her adoptive mother: Mrs Winterson. It is relevant that the author never calls her 'mother', always Mrs Winterson.
It could sound as if this is all so gloomy: a life dominated by a God-fearing mother, a bible basher in extremis. However, just when there is a huge catch in your throat the author's brilliant writing often ensures you see some humour in the moment.
This is really a series of stories which are sad, funny, poignant, moving, just brilliant. If you have read 'Oranges are not the only fruit', which was based on Jeanette's own life, then you may think you have heard it all before. You have not!
A must read.