Why be Happy when you can be Normal?

Jeannette Winterson

Jeannette Winterson is a favourite author of mine, having first read Oranges are not the only Fruit as a queer teenager, and so I’ve been meaning to read her memoir for quite a while know. I ended up buying it on a whim when recently browsing books and I am so glad that I did.

Winterson’s memoir is something of a companion novel to Oranges, which Winterson refers to as ‘the story I could live with at the time’ with the reality being a far bleaker tale. Winterson writes with a desperation for the reader to understand her experience of being beaten or left to sit on the doorstep all night. However, despite this the memoir is filled with enough quirky little eccentricities that you never get beaten down, left unable to finish. Instead there is a desire to understand how this impressive author made it to Oxford and went on to live the life she did.

Winterson perfectly walks the line between revealing what her life has been like and choosing to hold back so as to remain a level of privacy. Although there are certain things Winterson chooses not to share, as is clear from her choice to unapologetically jump 25 years into the future, at no point do you feel entitled to the information as it simply seems too personal or too difficult to be shared. You are very aware that you are only privy to exactly what Winterson has chosen to share and that’s how you feel most comfortable reading about some of the lowest points in her life.

However, what is truly remarkable about this memoir is the absence of anger found in it, which is unexpected given the treatment of Winterson as a child. Winterson’s adoptive parents are never presented as objects of fury but mere products of the ill-treatment they themselves were on the receiving end of. Given everything you read about the treatment of Winterson by her adoptive parents this is an incredible feat as you would expect anyone to feel resentful or frustrated at the childhood they had to endure, yet Winterson’s memoir presents as a mere tragedy of circumstances. Whilst there is no justifying how Mr and Mrs Winterson treated Jeannette, there is also an absence blame through there being explanations for their behaviour. They had difficult lives and parented the only way they knew how.

I would absolutely recommend this moving piece of writing to anyone who is a fan of a memoir or Winterson’s writing. It is deeply tragic but incredibly interesting and should not be skipped over.