Though a fiction novel, it feels very biographical, and the narrator’s name is even the same as the authors. The novel tells the story of the narrator’s childhood and her developing sexuality. Raised in a very strict Christian church, some of her stories about grade school are incredibly amusing because she continuously misses the mark when trying to understand the students and the teacher. She may make the most intricate and carefully designed projects but teachers really don’t quite know how to react to embroidered sayings along the lines of “repent” or some of the other darker themes that the narrator explores as a result of her upbringing.
Winterson’s early life is full of material, so it’s no wonder she went on to become a writer. My only wish is that she went about it with more focus. Memoirs, especially ones as personal as this, benefit from less dilly dallying around. Put me, the reader, in the moment. Don’t consistently jar me out of it every other sentence.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? reads like Winterson trying to piece together her life into a picture that makes sense to her and us, her readers, yet taking shortcuts in the process of construction, like someone jamming a puzzle piece into a slot where it doesn’t quite fit, or someone swapping around the stickers on their Rubik’s Cube in order to solve it.
Her thought processes remind me of my own, which is to say they’re the sort where a ton is lost in the translation. To her, I’m sure this memoir is is perfectly coherent and lucid, but to me it’s flighty and meandering. Her thoughts never quite coalesce into the bigger picture she’s working towards; instead, what you get is a series of smaller pictures that don’t quite form a mosaic.
I keep reading the title to this memoir as, “why be normal when you can be happy?” which is just completely beside the point (SPOILER ALERT: I don’t have a point) but that’s what my brain wants the title to be. My brain likes to fix things and make them happier, I think, even if it means rewriting someone’s history. What? I don’t even know what I’m writing right now. My brain has taken over. Or left the building. One of those.
This book has been on my To Read list for ages and ages so, the last time I was at the library, I started searching through my Goodreads to figure out what to check out (I check out actual books like it’s 1995 WHAT OF IT) and as luck would have it, the library had this one. So that’s why I read it. Wow, good story, LET ME TELL IT AGAIN.
(This book has been…haha, JK LOL.)
I’d never heard of Jeanette Winterson before reading this, which is a Capital C Crime because she’s awesome and I even have a book of hers sitting on a shelf at home that I’ve never read STORY OF MY LIFE.
Isn’t there a word for that? Buying books that you never read and leaving them strewn about the house? Maybe not that last part, though there should be a word for that, too. I just reread all of FABLES and my husband expressed his exasperation that I kept leaving the books in piles around the house as I finished them because he doesn’t understand that I have a SYSTEM and I knew exactly where each book was and JUST DON’T MESS WITH MY SYSTEM OK.
So what is that word? For buying books you never read? Because I do that. A lot.
Winterson probably does it, too, because she loves books with all her heart (as one should) but for a better reason than most people…books saved her life. For real. Her mom was balls out nuts and didn’t allow books in the house (save a specific few) CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE so, to escape Mrs. Winterson’s Crazy, Jeanette would go to the library.
I felt for Winterson what I felt for poor Liesel in The Book Thief, but worse because Winterson is real and Liesel isn’t (so says conventional reality, though I prefer MY reality, where all fictional characters are alive and well and living in my brain YES even dead fictional characters, Lupin and Tonks just had their third child THANK YOU VERY MUCH).
Let’s see, have I even talked about this book yet? No? Sorry.
Winterson grew up in a small town near Manchester, England, with her adoptive mother and father. Her father was mostly absent, having suffered under his wife’s tyranny for many years, and having learnt that staying out of her way was the easiest way to survive. Unfortunately, this left Mrs. Winterson with nothing but time to punish and critique Jeanette, finding fault in nearly everything she did.
Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is based on her time growing up with Mrs. Winterson, so I presume she delves into The Crazy a bit more in that novel, but there are plenty of instances in this one. Mrs. Winterson used to lock Jeanette out of the house or in the coal cellar (wtf) and, just as damaging, withheld love from a little girl who needed it badly. You can imagine her reaction when she found out Jeanette was a lesbian (HINT: it was not good).
The memoir loosely follows Winterson’s journey to find her biological mother, but more to the point, focuses on how this loss of love early on in life affected her even as an adult. It’s touching and heart-wrenching and difficult and I have to agree with Winterson herself, who said that the world needs to hear more adoptive stories like hers.
A+ five stars!
Silver is 11, an orphan, and lives with her mean Aunt, Mrs. Rockabye in Silver’s sprawling ancestral mansion, Tanglewreck. Something has gone horribly wrong with Time and a sinister man shows up at Tanglewreck looking for a clock called the Timekeeper. Silver is a ‘child of prophecy’ and only she can find the Timekeeper.
I wanted to like this book so much more than I did. I couldn’t let go of the feeling that it was a lot like Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. The main character is a slightly feral child, who is the only one who can bring something about. There is a coldly beautiful woman, who takes an interest in the child. She also experiments on children. There is a boy who becomes her traveling companion. There are alternate times and universes, and a few popes. Sadly, there are no talking polar bears.
It is a well written book. I just couldn’t let go of the Pullman comparisons.