Jeanette Winterson’s bold and revelatory novels have established her as a major figure in world literature. She has written some of the most acclaimed books of the last three decades, including her internationally bestselling first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the story of a young girl adopted by Pentecostal parents that is considered one of the most important books in contemporary fiction. Jeanette’s adoptive mother loomed over her life until Jeanette finally moved out at sixteen because she was in love with a woman. As Jeanette left behind the strict confines of her youth, her mother asked, “Why be happy when you could be normal?”
This memoir is the chronicle of a life’s work to find happiness. It is a book full of stories: about a girl locked out of her home, sitting on the doorstep all night; about a religious zealot disguised as a mother who has two sets of false teeth and a revolver in the dresser drawer; about growing up in a north England industrial town in the 1960s and 1970s; and about the universe as a cosmic dustbin. It is the story of how a painful past, which Winterson thought she had written over and repainted, rose to haunt her later in life, sending her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her biological mother. It is also a book about literature, one that shows how fiction and poetry can guide us when we are lost. Witty, acute, fierce, and celebratory, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a tough-minded search for belonging - for love, identity, and a home.
©2011 Jeanette Winterson (P)2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
"To read Jeanette Winterson is to love her. . . . The fierce, curious, brilliant British writer is winningly candid in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? . . . [Winterson has] such a joy for life and love and language that she quickly becomes her very own one-woman bandone that, luckily for us, keeps playing on." (O, the Oprah Magazine)
"Moving, honest . . . Rich in detail and the history of the northern English town of Accrington, Winterson's narrative allows readers to ponder, along with the author, the importance of feeling wanted and loved." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Raw . . . A highly unusual, scrupulously honest, and endearing memoir." (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)
This is one of my favorite books. Jeanette Winterson is one of my favorite authors.
Winterson does in prose what I wish I could do if I did prose writing.
The story of her life is amazing. She has transformed her life. And transformed herself.
The way she overcame a hellish childhood is amazing. The way she became, or always was, a writer, is really impressive to me.
I identify with her and much that she writes about. Although I did not have the religion factor, in my life I did have childhood trauma. Also, I became, or always was, a writer, in my case more of a poet.
I experienced mental illness, as she did. She says she still hears voices--I don't but I know someone who does.
Easy to listen to. Interesting perspective of an adopted and abused child's grownup perspective. Reminds me of a simpler time when most of us were abused and didn't know it.
Beautiful but painful memoir. It's criminal that such open child abuse can go unnoticed . The author writes in a way that truly brings her experiences to life. I do feel that she paints all adoption with a very wide brush- I believe that many adopted children do have wonderful lives and are very lucky. I'm so sorry for what she had to endure- but what an amazing person she turned out to be.
The best thing was listening to the meanderings of a very thoughtful and talented writer. The worst thing was the flashes of brilliance between all of the fluff surrounding it.
Her British accent is wonderful as she tells the jokes etc. like only the British can.
Addicted to books, but especially to audiobooks!
I usually don't read lots of memoirs and biographies, in general I prefer fiction or non-fiction when it pertains to issues that interest me, I must say thought that this is one of the most genuine and emotional memoirs I've ever read.
Jeannette Winterson was born in Manchester, England, and grew up in Accrington, Lacarshire, after being adopted by Constance and John William Winterson in the early 1960's.
This book recounts her quest for her identity, origins, her (birth) mother and ultimately for love and acceptance.
It's a different kind of memoir in that is doesn't follows a chronological structure. She jumps back and forth between different periods in her life, but to me that's one of the reasons why the book sounds so authentic, you almost feel that you are sitting down with a good friend while she is telling you her story.
The author comes across as a clever, witty, and as a person in search for answers. At times her writing sounds urgent and almost desperate. It's feels that she's running out of time and want to explains things to you, she wants to make sure you understand her history. Which l suppose is one of the reasons why people write these type of books, I imagine that this process provides for many, some sort of satisfying and emotional closure.
She also has a great sense of humor and it a wonderful conversationalist. Throughout the book she takes some time to explain some of the cultural, religious and political ethos of the time.
There are also quite a few extremely funny anecdotes. I love that in the middle of such a difficult upbringing, the author has the capacity to laugh at some rather crazy circumstances.
The center theme of the memoir is her descriptions of her very peculiar Pentecostal upbringing, and her tumultuous relationship with her adoptive mother, whom she call through most of the book "Mrs. Winterson".
Mrs. Winterson is described as an "out of scale, larger than life" woman, who at times sounds pretty much deranged. A woman opposed to any sort of intimacy, sexual or otherwise,she casts a huge shadow on the Winterson's household, and little Jeannette doesn't feel loved by either parent. Her father is a withdrawn, simple man who has been belittled by his wife and is incapable of standing up for himself, let alone for his adoptive daughter.
Little Jeannette is abused, both emotionally (her mother constantly alludes that in her adoption process “The Devil led us to the wrong crib”) and physically, she is beaten, left to sleep outside of the house, and pretty much left to her own devices since a very early age.
In Mrs. Winterson's ultra fundamentalist version of Christianity, there's not room for reading secular books, so she forbids Jeannette from reading anything other than the Bible. Jeannette doesn't obeys, of course, and when Mrs. W discovers dozens of books hidden under Jeannette's matters, she burns them all. This was to me a truly disturbing passage of the book.
Later on, Mrs. Winterson discovers that Jeannette is attracted to women and has in fact started a relationship with a girl that also attends her church, this sets in motion a series of events, including the spectacle of a 3-day exorcism performed by the pastor who tries to, to put it on contemporary terms "pray the gay away".
When Jeannette is 16 years old, she is evicted from her home after Mrs. B discovers and 2nd girlfriend, initially she lives in her car, but shortly after she gets under a roof, when a sympathetic teacher takes pity on her and allows her to stay in her house.
Jeannette stars reading English Literature in Prose A-Z, there's a very good public library in her town, and she's determined to read all the authors available in alphabetical order. "A book is a door,” she discovers “You open it. You step through.”
Later on she applied “to read English at Oxford because it was the most impossible thing” she could think of; she graduates; she writes books and becomes a well known and successful author.
The memoir then makes a big jump, and for whatever reason the author decides to take us 25 years later, when she has just broken up with her girlfriend of 6 years. This is when the book becomes more introspective, a search to connect the past with the present.
By now, Mrs. B has passed away and Jeannette has managed to maintain an almost normal relationship with her father.
Jeannette then begins the search for her birth mother, which is perhaps where the reader can feel a deeper sense of empathy and connection with her . She is desperate to find that final link to her past, yet she's also petrified by fear of what she might find. Who can't relate to that feeling?
After jumping many hoops throughout the inept and insensible bureaucracy that apparently rules the adoption system in the UK (I suspect, the same is true in the US and many other Western countries), she manages to find Ann, her birth mother, makes peace with her and her decision to give Jeannette away.
Of course, this being real life, there's not exactly a happy ending, not in the strict sense of the word anyway, so after her first meeting with Ann, she quickly comes to the painful realization that the instant connection she might have been anticipating does not come.
I think that what saves Jeannette Winston is that she possesses both a very clever and inquisitive mind as well as an indomitable and defiant personality.
By the end of the book, she appears to have accomplish an exorcism of her own: what stars as a detailed and painful description of the horrible mother, ends with a sense of closure and forgiveness.
When referring to a discussion she had with Ann, she says "I notice that I hate Ann criticizing Mrs Winterson. She was a monster but she was my monster". We humans are full of contradictions, aren't we?
Jeannette Winterson is the narrator of her memoir, I am for the most part, not a fan of authors reading their own audiobooks and I do preferred that they live this to the professionals, with that said, Winterson really did a wonderful job. Perhaps because of the 1st person narrative and her writing style is so intense, I don't imagine anybody else being able to narrate this book as well as she did.
I truly enjoyed this wonderful book.
The story of Winterson's adopted life and finding her birth mother. As the child of an adpotee, it gave me insight into my mother's personality quirks.
I loved listening to Jeanette's accent, she spends a good amount of time talking about where she is from in the UK, and had the narrator had a traditional BBC accent, I think some of the flavor would have been lost.
Great writing, compelling story
When Jeanette Winterson meets her birth mother
I love her reading voice, it added a lot to the story
A Moving Story of Self Discovery
If you enjoy Jeannette Winterson's books, this is a must- listen. I wish she would narrate more of her books, she has a beautiful reading voice.
I probably wouldn't just because I have other books to listen to but I did order other things written by this author as well as the BBC miniseries she wrote. I was that interested. I give the author so much credit for her honesty and her strencth getting through a difficult life.
Reminds me a bit of Fun Home, though that book is a graphic novel about another complicated life. As a matter of fact, those tow authors should meet each other. I'll bet they would be friends.
In the top 10%
Some of the philosophical stuff was a little too much. But enjoyed it very much.
This book is difficult to get into even boring at times. It did not hold my interest for much of the chapters and as far as memoirs go I wasn't feeling it.
I find her voice in the audible version to be very boring. I am however interested in the written version of her other Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.
I am not interested in hearing any more of this story since I was not captivated in the first place.
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