2. Sad and Funny and Happy and Sad
“Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” is writer Jeanette Winterson’s wrenching, often pained and frequently hilarious (in an “oh the terrible irony of it” sort of way) of growing up as the adopted daughter of Mrs. Winterson.
There is a Mr. Winterson, a World War II veteran who works in a factory in the mill-town of Accrington and is quite dwarfed, in stature and household influence, by his wife. The Wintersons are Pentecostal and Jeanette grows up in a home with six books (the Bible being, of course, the main one). “Harrowing” and “miserable” are words that barely describe a girlhood which includes periodically being locked up in the coal-hole or out on the doorstep for her misbehaviors or, rather, her sins.
These include the reading of books beside the Bible — the library is the author’s refuge and she makes her way through all the writers from A-Z — and the recognition of her attraction to women. Somehow, Winterson finds herself studying literature at Oxford and becoming a writer and then a most highly lauded one with her Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit being made into a BBC production.
But “Why Be Happy When You Could Normal?” is more than a tale of becoming a writer. Loss and love (and language) are major themes in Winterson’s work and her memoir charts her search for the source of these. My sense on reading the last page was that the book did not quite seem finished and, being a longtime fan of Winterson, I am relieved as this means she will be offering us more stories.
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