This book has been my first surprise this year and what an amazing one!
I bought it solely judging by the title, which I thought wonderfully ironic. I didn’t know much about Jeanette Winterson, other that I probably should read some of her books.
I expected a novel full of irony and sarcasm, what I read was an amazing account of Winterson’s life with her adopted family and her recovery from the experience. This book was touching, emotional, painful and bringing smile to my face at the same time. It isn’t only an account of Winterson’s life, it shows us how she coped with a mother that believed her to be possesed, how she fought for herself, but also how this experience formed her.
Winterson tries to describe Mrs Winterson objectively, we can see she’s trying to understand, she’s past anger (not always, but most of the time) and just wants to analyse what happened and why, she tries to take a step back from the experience. Mrs Winterson is a force to be reckoned with, she and her depression dominate the life of the whole family. Part of the book is also devoted to describing living conditions in Manchester and Lancashire in 1960’s and 1970’s and those are not great conditions at all.
The book is not all doom and gloom. Winterson also describes happy moments of her childhood, even if they are a little bit weird. She looks at how we remember things and how we cope with tragedy, pain and lack of love. It is a book that tries to answer the question: How did I become who I am now? What made me me? The answer in this case is fascinating and moving, Winterson tries to consider all aspects, her mother plays a key role, but she also thinks about society, her lost loves, reading and writing.
I found this book very touching, not in a cheap sense, it deeply moved me. The language has an amazing clarity that allows emotions to shine through.
And the title? It’s not ironic, its explanation is probably the saddest part of the book. Showing an abyss between mother and daughter, that they cannot cross even if they wanted to.
I rarely say this but: read it, read it, read it!
And let me know what you think!
Quotes from Why Be Happy if You Could Be Normal
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska