Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Jeanette Winterson

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Jeanette Winterson

In 1985 Jeanette Winterson’s first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, was published. It was Jeanette’s version of the story of a terraced house in Accrington, an adopted child, and the thwarted giantess Mrs Winterson. It was a cover story, a painful past written over and repainted. It was a story of survival.

This book is that story’s the silent twin. It is full of hurt and humour and a fierce love of life. It is about the pursuit of happiness, about lessons in love, the search for a mother and a journey into madness and out again. It is generous, honest and true. 


I am going to assume that if you are reading this review about the latest book by Jeanette Winterson, then you would have, at the very least, heard of her most famous first book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Winterson wrote this novel when she was 25 years old and it deals with the story of a young girl adopted by Pentecostal parents with high hopes for the girl to become a missionary. Instead the character falls in love with another woman. Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? is written 25 years later and is the same story to a certain extent, except this time it is autobiographical. This moving book may well be Winterson’s first ‘true’ story but her use of poetry within her beautifully told stories remains the same. The wonderful title comes from Winterson’s mother asking her this very question when she leaves home at 16 years of age.

The book is filled with heart-wrenching stories of Winterson’s childhood, the poverty of love and the path to self-acceptance. What is extraordinary is that from this childhood devoid of so much joy and an adulthood filled with such angst Winterson has become one of the most gifted storytellers of our time. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a brilliant read. After all, her story of searching for peace is, of course, a shared experience.

Christine Gordon is the Events Coordinator for Readings and is a committee member of The Stella Prize. She can be contacted at events@readings.com.au.

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