Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
|Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson|
|Reviewer: Louise Laurie|
|Summary: Winterson takes her readers back to her childhood. Unorthodox parenting methods, school days in the north of England etc are all described here giving Winterson plenty to write about in her reader-friendly style.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 230||Date: October 2011|
|Publisher: Jonathan Cape|
I saw the BBC's Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit a semi-autobiographical account of Winterson's childhood. This book's title is equally memorable and unique and we learn that it's a line Mrs Winterson said to the young Jeanette.
The very first sentence is a terrific hook: When my mother was angry with me, which was often, she said 'The Devil led us to the wrong crib'. I also think that this book tells us quite a lot about the woman who said it. Said to to her young adopted daughter. Heartless and cruel were the words that came to my mind.
The whole subject of adoption is usually an emotional minefield for all concerned without Mrs W rubbing plenty of salt into the wounds. It would be a hard-headed individual indeed who wasn't on the side of the young Jeanette. But Winterson was no saint, she tells us. She could be stubborn, she sometimes disobeyed her mother's instructions. And she could also swear like a trooper when she felt like it. A normal young girl/teenager growing up then.
As the adopted daughter of older, deeply religious parents, Winterson had the cards stacked against her from the start. She learned to look after herself basically and also to stem her tears. She didn't want to be seen as weak. Her mother would often lock her out of house at night and not bat an eyelid in the morning. Neighbours tut-tutted but didn't dare interfere. It was as if Mrs Winterson was some sort of ogre and not to be meddled with. Her husband was weak which didn't help matters.
Winterson's descriptions in this book are excellent. Her mother filled the phone box for example. We're in the industrial north in the 1960s and Winterson tells it like it was - warts and all.
But she doesn't bleat on and on about her terrible childhood. Far from it. She'll give an example of a particular situation she needed or wanted to overcome - very few books at home and then presented us with her solution - go to the local library, in secret if need be. Brilliant. She was a resourceful young girl.
We learn that because Mr and Mrs Winterson didn't show affection towards their daughter (the mother was by far the worst, the father a little better) the young Jeanette found it difficult to deal with the whole love-affection situation. And she tells us a little of later troubled relationships.
Winterson is brave in being so searingly honest about personal issues. Some parts are not easy to read. If it were fiction, I'd find it heaps easier. We also learn that the young Jeanette had to attend church on a very regular basis. God loomed large in their tiny, terraced house.
Books (reading and ultimately writing them) seemd to be a big part of Winterson's survival. It worked for the most part. The relationship between this particular mother and daughter is extremely fragile indeed. Winterson shares all the painful details with the readers. A no-holds barred account of growing up as an adopted daughter. Highly recommended.
If this book appeals then you might like to try Full Circle by Ellen MacArthur
You can read more book reviews or buy Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.