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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?by Jeanette Winterson
Synopses & Reviews
Jeanette Winterson's novels have established her as a major figure in world literature. She has written some of the most admired books of the past few 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 now often required reading in contemporary fiction.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a memoir about a life's work to find happiness. It's 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, waiting for Armageddon; about growing up in an north England industrial town now changed beyond recognition; about the Universe as Cosmic Dustbin.
It is the story of how a painful past that Jeanette thought she'd written over and repainted rose to haunt her, sending her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her biological mother.
Witty, acute, fierce, and celebratory, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a tough-minded search for belonging — for love, identity, home, and a mother.
"'What would it have meant to be happy? What would it have meant if things had been bright, clear, good between us?' Winterson (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit) asks of her relationship with her adoptive mother, questions that haunt this raw memoir to its final pages. Winterson first finds solace in the Accrington Public Library in Lancashire, where she stumbles across T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral and begins to cry: 'the unfamiliar and beautiful play made things bearable that day.' She is asked to leave the library for crying and sits on the steps in 'the usual northern gale' to finish the book. The rest is history. Highly improbably for a woman of her class, she gets into Oxford and goes on to have a very successful literary career. But she finds that literature — and literary success — can only fulfill so much in her. There's another ingredient missing: love. The latter part of the book concerns itself with this quest, in which Winterson learns that the problem is not so much being gay (for which her mother tells her 'you'll be in Hell') as it is in the complex nature of how to love anyone when one has only known perverse love as a child. This is a highly unusual, scrupulously honest, and endearing memoir." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is raucous. It hums with a dark refulgence from its first pages....Singular and electric...[Winterson's] life with her adoptive parents was often appalling, but it made her the writer she is." The New York Times
"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 band — one that, luckily for us, keeps playing on." O, the Oprah Magazine
"She's one of the most daring and inventive writers of our time — searingly honest yet effortlessly lithe as she slides between forms, exuberant and unerring, demanding emotional and intellectual expansion of herself and of us... She explores not only the structure of storytelling byt the interplay of past, present, and future, blending science fiction, realism, and a deep love of literature and history....In Why Be Happy, [Winterson's] emotional life is laid bare. [Her] struggle to first accept and then love herself yields a bravely frank narrative of truly coming undone. For someone in love with disguises, Winterson's openness is all the more moving; there's nothing left to hide, and nothing left to hide behind." A.M. Homes, Elle
"Magnificent....What begins as a tragicomic tale of triumph over a soul-destroying childhood becomes something rougher and richer in the later passages....Winterson writes with heartrending precision....Ferociously funny and unfathomably generous, Winterson's exorcism-in-writing is an unforgettable quest for belonging, a tour de force of literature and love." Vogue
"A memoir as unconventional and winning as [Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit], the rollicking bildungsroman...that instantly established [Winterson's] distinctive voice....It's a testament to Winterson's innate generosity, as well as her talent, that she can showcase the outsize humor her mother's equally capacious craziness provides even as she reveals cruelties Mrs. Winterson imposed on her....To confront Mrs. Winterson head on, in life, in nonfiction, demands courage; to survive requires imagination....But put your money on Jeanette Winterson. Seventeen books ago, she proved she had what she needed. Heroines are defined not by their wounds, but by their triumphs." New York Times Book Review
"Bold....One of the most entertaining and moving memoirs in recent memory....A coming-of-age story, a coming-out story, and a celebration of the act of reading....A marvelous gift of consolation and wisdom." The Boston Globe
"Jeanette Winterson's sentences become lodged in the brain for years, like song lyrics....Beautiful....Powerful....Shockingly revealing....Raw and undigested....Never has anyone so outsized and exceptional struggled through such remembered pain to discover how intensely ordinary she was meant to be." Slate
"[Winterson's] novels — mongrels of autobiography, myth, fantasy, and formal experimentation — evince a colossal stamina for self-scrutiny....[A] proud and vivid portrait of working-class life....This bullet of a book is charged with risk, dark mirth, hard-won self-knowledge....You're in the hands of a master builder who has remixed the memoir into a work of terror and beauty." Bookforum
"Captivating....A painful and poignant story of redemption, sexuality, identity, love, loss, and, ultimately, forgiveness." Huffington Post
"Shattering, brilliant....There is a sense at the end of this brave, funny, heartbreaking book that Winterson has somehow reconciled herself to the past. Without her adoptive mother, she wonders what she would be — Normal? Uneducated? Heterosexual? — and she doesn't much fancy the prospect....She might have been happy and normal, but she wouldn't have been Jeanette Winterson. Her childhood was ghastly, as bad as Dickens's stint in the blacking factory, but it was also the crucible for her incendiary talent." The Sunday Times (UK)
"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
"[Winterson] is piercingly honest, deeply creative, and stubbornly self-confident....A testimony to the power of love and the need to feel wanted." The Seattle Times
About the Author
Born in Manchester in 1959 and adopted into a firmly religious family, Jeanette Winterson put herself through higher education and studied at Oxford University. She is the author of numerous novels, including Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Sexing the Cherry, and The Passion. Winterson lives in Gloucestershire, UK. Visit her website at jeanettewinterson.com.
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