Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Jeanette Winterson. Grove, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2010-6
“What would it have meant to be happy? What would it have meant if things had been bright, clear, good between us?” Winterson (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit) asks of her relationship with her adoptive mother, questions that haunt this raw memoir to its final pages. Winterson first finds solace in the Accrington Public Library in Lancashire, where she stumbles across T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral and begins to cry: “the unfamiliar and beautiful play made things bearable that day.” She is asked to leave the library for crying and sits on the steps in “the usual northern gale” to finish the book. The rest is history. Highly improbably for a woman of her class, she gets into Oxford and goes on to have a very successful literary career. But she finds that literature—and literary success—can only fulfill so much in her. There’s another ingredient missing: love. The latter part of the book concerns itself with this quest, in which Winterson learns that the problem is not so much being gay (for which her mother tells her “you’ll be in Hell”) as it is in the complex nature of how to love anyone when one has only known perverse love as a child. This is a highly unusual, scrupulously honest, and endearing memoir. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 10/24/2011
Release date: 03/01/2012
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