Friday, January 31, 2014

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson - thoughts

How do you review a memoir? I am sure there are perfectly legitimate ways but it still feels  a bit like attempting to judge the author's life.
Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit was published in 1985, and it is the fictional counterpart of the memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (published in 2011). I've not read Oranges..., and was worried at first whether it will take something away from the reading experience, but having finished the memoir, I'd say that these books can probably be very well read separately, although reading the other one, no matter in which order, will definitely give additional value.
I don't have a whole lot to say about Why Be Happy..., although I enjoyed it quite a lot. I didn't know much of Jeanette Winterson, other than some very basic things, and I'm glad I know more now. The main impressions I came away with were that Jeanette Winterson is one gutsy lady with gentle soul (I guess you might say the kind of people who have hard time in life because they are above average emotional and don't want to tramp over others in the name of success - I myself qualify to that category as well), and that she writes some beautiful passages. Especially the first half of the book was more lyrical, although the matter of subject (her life at home and how it was all kinds of horrible) was quite tough to read about at times.
Truth for anyone is a very complex thing. For a writer, what you leave out says as much as those things you include. /p. 8/
The book triggered some interesting thoughts in me. I've noticed it in a few books earlier that when someone writes about the real events that have taken place, and if they talk negatively about someone, I always start feeling extremely uncomfortable after a while because I feel I'm missing the other person's side of the story, and I don't like it. Then again, if it's an autobiography or a memoir, you can't expect to get anything else but very subjective experiences out of it... From this book, reader might get the idea that Jeanette's adoptive mother Mrs Winterson has horns, tail, smoke coming from nostrils, and a pitchfork in hands. However, if she was even half as horrible person as described in the book, Jeanette Winterson's need to tell this story is understandable.
That's what I think, but I am learning that time is unreliable. Those old sayings about Give It Time, and Time is a Healer depend on just whose time it is. /p. 214/


  1. Obviously Jeanette's adoptive mother had her own issues that impacted on her ability to parent, have relationships and live in this world. Which is sad for her.
    But I came away from this book, wondering about all the things that happened that Jeanette chose not to write about (as per your quote).

  2. "How do you review a memoir? I am sure there are perfectly legitimate ways but it still feels a bit like attempting to judge the author's life."

    I feel that way a lot. Especially when it's not a really captivating memoir... it feels like a jerky thing to say "This was boring" when it's about someone's life, but... it happens! To me, anyways :)

  3. I dont review memoirs anymore except ones that I have purchased on my own (I do not accept them for review). On my right side bar you will see a post that I wrote a couple years ago called "When Authors Attack"... and that is why I do not review memoirs :)


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