Thursday, 28 March 2013

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Jeanette was adopted by the Wintersons in the sixties and raised in a terraced house in Accrington, Lancashire. The evangelistic Mrs W was eternally disappointed in her, comparing her to the son they never had. Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? is the true story behind Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Jeanette’s far from happy childhood.

I do wonder if I would have got more out of this having read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit as the first half felt very close to being a misery memoir, if a well-written one, which is something I like to avoid. Her childhood was depressing by all accounts and I was unsure if some bits were meant to be funny. It felt uncomfortable to be laughing at her mother; I guess it's a case of you either laugh or cry but I found the whole thing tragic. As I was reading it for book group, I did carry on and felt the book improved once she left home.

The wider we read the freer we become.

Jeanette does have some interesting things to say about books and reading. I liked her secret stash of books and her trips to the library to read English Literature from A to Z. I even enjoyed the parts which dealt with the history of Accrington and the culture of the North at the time. Perhaps it’s just hard for me to relate to her; the gender politics of the Thatcher era are so different from anything I’ve had to deal with. Whilst it's good to know these things, it's not really something I enjoy reading about.

I can see why this has been chosen as one of the World Book Night titles. It does show how reading and books can change your life. It will be interesting to see how people take to it with no knowledge of the author.

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7 comments:

  1. Hmm, insteresting. I've never read any Jeanette Winterson but I do have a couple of hers on Mount TBR. If World Book Night is meant to be for books that will get non readers into reading this doesn't necessarily sound like the best choice. But then a lot of people do love those misery memoirs so you never know!

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  2. I enjoyed Weight about the myth of Atlas and I quite fancy her new one about witches do I would read some more if hers. Just not the ones about her life! I guess you either like these sort of books or don't.

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  3. I've had Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit on my TBR for nearly a year now, and I definitely want to read it before I pick up this one. I have a friend that read this one and she said more or less the same thing as you - that it was vaguely similar to a misery memoir and quite depressing.

    There's probably a REASON she's famous for Oranges and not this one!

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  4. I loved Oranges and Sexing the Cherry. The Daylight Gate about the witch trials is very good too. Just not fussed on memoirs!

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  5. I kinda did this the other way round. I haven't read 'Why Be Happy...?' yet, but I saw a wonderful Imagine documentary on the BBC a couple of months ago about Winterson's life - including her passion for books - and immediately started reading 'Oranges' as a result. I thought she was remarkable in the programme, taking on her rather traumatic past with wit, eloquence and a very down-to-earth matter-of-fact style. I didn't like 'Oranges' as much as I maybe would have hoped - but even though I'm not usually a 'memoir of slightly miserable persuasion' person, I can't WAIT to read this one. :)

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    1. I think I need to watch that doc. I gave my copy away to someone at work who had watched it and really wanted to read the book. Which makes me feel a bit better about buying a book for bookgroup that I didn't really want and didn't love.

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  6. I read Oranges aaaages ago, and then I read this, and I'd definitely say you get more out of this that way- Oranges is kind of beautifully written but talks around things, whereas with this you get the full story, and find out which bits were fictional, which was sort of fascinating.

    So yeah. I really liked this! (In fact I'm giving it out for WBN!) But it's interesting to see what it's like when you haven't read Oranges, which is apparently not amazing.

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