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.

Hunger

Roxane Gay

Hunger is a deeply moving memoir by Roxane Gay focusing on her personal relationship to food, weight and body image and how this has been heavily influenced by experiences within the world and how the world treats her as a fat woman of colour.

Roxane Gay is by far one of my favourite authors, having previously read her essay collection Bad Feminist and her short story collection Difficult Women, both of which proved to be fascinating reads and Hunger by no means breaks her streak.

The way in which Gay navigates writing about deeply personal experiences from her past and more recent treatment she faces is beautifully done and the way in which she handles the intersections of being queer, black and fat within the book ought to be applauded. This gives us a memoir which subtly questions how society treats fat people whilst confronting any internal, and potentially unknown, judgements you as the reader may have.

Furthermore, Gay’s exploration of the complex relationship that almost always exists between an individual’s mental or emotional health and their weight is demonstrated in the most personal way possible through the author recounting personal trauma and how it has impacted her relationship with her body over the course of her life.

The brutal reality of what it is to not only be a fat person, but a fat queer woman of colour in the USA could not be better conveyed than in Roxane Gay’s Hunger.