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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? [Kindle Edition]

Jeanette Winterson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (217 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

In her new memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Winterson returns to the source, her grim girlhood in a sooty English industrial town in the 1960s, to tell her story more forthrightly than she has before. Aiming for narrative tidiness tends to dilute this memoir's delightfully unorthodox quality. But for the most part, this bullet of a book is charged with risk, dark mirth, and hard-won self-knowledge. —Parul Sehgal


"Unforgettable... It's the best book I have ever read about the cost of growing up." -- Daisy Goodwin Sunday Times "A searingly felt and expressed autobiography...Funny and profoundly hopeful - a tale of survival" -- Kate Hamer Metro "Vivid, unpredictable, and sometimes mind-rattling memoir... This book... which had been funny enough to make me laugh out loud more times than is advisable on the No 12 bus - turns into something raw and unnerving" -- Julie Myerson Observer "This is certainly the most moving book of Winterson's I have ever read... but it wriggles with humour... At one point I was crying so much I had tears in my ears. There is much here that is impressive, but what I find most unusual about it is the way it deepens one's sympathy, for everyone involved" -- Zoe Williams Guardian "In the 26 years since the publication of her highly acclaimed first novel, Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson has proved herself a writer of startling invention, originality and style. Her combination of the magical and the earthy, the rapturous and the matter-of-fact, is unique. It is a strange and felicitous gift, as if the best of Gabriel Garcia Marquez was combined with the best of Alan Bennett... This remarkable account is, among other things, a powerful argument for reading... This memoir is brave and beautiful, a testament to the forces of intelligence, heart and imagination. It is a marvellous book and generous one" Spectator

Product Details

  • File Size: 635 KB
  • Print Length: 242 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (October 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005EWDA7E
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,796 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
75 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stories are Compensatory November 8, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
In the October 28th Guardian, Jeanette has an essay which retells the opening of Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? The retelling is as riveting as the original. In essay and book, Winterson portrays herself as a survivor. Her childhood reads like the darker parts of some Grimms fairytale, even if her telling of the story is often lightened by empathy. Here, for instance, is a description of her often abusive, book-burning, adoptive mother.

"She filled the phone box. She was out of scale, larger than life. She was like a fairy story where size is approximate and unstable. She loomed up. She expanded. Only later, much later, too late, did I understand how small she was to herself. The baby nobody picked up. The uncarried child still inside her."

A later passage reads:

"Babies are frightening - raw tyrants whose only kingdom is their own body. My new mother had a lot of problems with the body - her own, my dad's, their bodies together, and mine. She had muffled her own body in flesh and clothes, suppressed its appetites with a fearful mixture of nicotine and Jesus, dosed it with purgatives that made her vomit, submitted it to doctors, who administered enemas and pelvic rings, subdued its desires for ordinary touch and comfort. Then suddenly, not out of her own body, and with no preparation, she had a thing that was all body. A burping, vomiting, sprawling faecal thing blasting the house with rude life."

Jeanette makes it hard not to feel some sympathy, even for twisted Mrs. Winterson.

Like many patremoirs, Winterson's matremoir is as much about the power of storytelling as it is about the parent.
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside the Orange January 26, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
How to start a review of Jeanette Winterson and her writing. Not an easy task. If you have read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, her autobiographical novel about her childhood and early adulthood, then you know that she is a fiery independent woman, who, incidentally, is also a lesbian. She wrote it as fiction in her twenties. Now in her fifties, she revisits that time of her life. The term brutal honesty keeps popping up, but she is not brutal. There is a profound tenderness for herself and for those in her life. What she shows us is the hard scrabble life in working class Northern England of the seventies. (Her observations on the effects of Thatcher's policies are sharp-edged.) Looking back after thirty, forty years, she seems to have found some forgiveness for the woman apparently incapable of love who adopted her.
Winterson does not write "womb to tomb" as she puts it. She circles the object of her study, her book. And we realize that this object is her heart, so tough that love is not allowed in. She pokes here and there, probing her memories, reliving brief insightful moments of her childhood. She reports to us how she could not love anyone, or even befriend a classmate, despite desperately needing someone in her young life.
And then, being Jeanette Winterson, she takes us to the present time and her search for her birth mother, which is mainly a struggle to get though the bureaucratic procedures set up to thwart adoptees from locating their birth parents.
The book ends with limited resolution, with Jeanette's heart finally opening. It is the most tender-hearted inconclusive ending I have read, probably ever. She stands with her heart exposed, bruised, torn, but beating strong.
I love this woman's writing. I do not always like her books, but this one is truly magnificent.
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Writing away the pain March 29, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
My one thought on finishing this book is that I'd like to convey to Ms. Winterson my sorrow over her abusive and stunted childhood. I had a strict and restrictive faith upbringing, but it was within the context of a stable home and caring parents. For those who complain that Ms. Winterson is a whiner, I believe there is no way to adequately express how deeply this kind of upbringing can crush your soul. Well, there is one way of doing it -- by writing about it. Ms. Winterson has done that, both here and with her fictional Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and I hope it brings her a measure of peace.

My three-star rating stems from the fact that in this memoir, Ms. Winterson refers repeatedly to her other books and writings, quoting parts of them at length, and I'm not familiar with these books, so the references didn't hold the depth of meaning for me that they obviously hold for her. This feeling that I was missing out on something made it hard for me to stay with the narrative at many points. Yet she is a colorful and insightful writer, which kept me reading to the end.
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35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow, way out of my genre and so very worth it .... November 6, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Highlighted on my kindle for the first time, a rarity, don't expect to repeat that. Laughed and cried, in just about equal measures. I would say I am not normally gripped by 'quality' writing in itself, like some people I know, where the story does not compel me but his book has it all. So impressed; by the story, the writing, the writer, the profoundness. I am calling it a perfect read and something I have learnt from.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Great story, but too much downtime.
An interesting -- and tragic -- story, but far more literary "education" than I had expected. Long periods of feeling like I was at a lecture.
Published 16 hours ago by Write Girl
5.0 out of 5 stars Hearbreaking, beautiful and brilliant
My favourite Jeanette Winterson novel. A heartbreaking memoir of her childhood written with her usual beautiful prose, elegance and wit. I bought several copies for friends.
Published 26 days ago by Sarah Alderson
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Could not download at all.
Published 29 days ago by Cassandra Modica
5.0 out of 5 stars A Difficult Journey
Jeanette Winterson is of course a prize-winning author, well-known for several novels including her book, "Oranges are not the Only Fruit," where a girl adopted by... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Margaret Sutherland
4.0 out of 5 stars Losing Mother
This was my first Jeanette Winterson book and I was amazed. The writing was brilliant and sad; profound and heartwrenching. Read more
Published 1 month ago by essies
2.0 out of 5 stars Ehhh not so much
I just couldn't get into this book. It's set in England, which I knew...just wasn't digging it. It seemed pretty boring, sorry to the author! I read about 20 pages and then quit.
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars disappointing
For someone who read 'Oranges are not the Only Fruit' many years ago and was so impressed, to me, 'Why be Happy....' seems a re-hash and very disappointing.
Published 1 month ago by V. Gates
5.0 out of 5 stars Lost loss, healing, love
Lately, I rarely read books of this ilk. Particularly written with remarkable skill, thoughtfulness and passion. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Alison Taylor
2.0 out of 5 stars Unhappy Read
I did not particularly enjoy this book. It was interesting but this author's style of writing just did not hold my attention for long.
Published 3 months ago by Sherry L. Altschuler
5.0 out of 5 stars loss and love
An excellent read. Moving, sad, funny, joyous and sincere. Highly recommend to all. For those who haven't read her other works this is an easier read than many of her other books.
Published 3 months ago by J. Erlich
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