Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal – Jeanette Winterson – Quotes

like all children, adopted or not, I have had to live out some of her unlived life. We do that for our parents – we don’t really have any choice.

I realise my behaviour wasn’t ideal but my mother believed I was demon possessed and the headmistress was in mourning for Scotland. It was hard to be normal.

Yet I would not give up the body I love to a stranger to wash and dress. It is the last thing you can do for someone, and the last thing you can do together – both your bodies, as it used to be. No, it’s not for a stranger. – I understand the sentiment behind this, but still I just could not do it myself.

I never did drugs, I did love – the crazy reckless kind, more damage than healing, more heartbreak than health. And I fought and hit out and tried to put it right the next day. And I went away without a word and didn’t care. Love is vivid. I never wanted the pale version. Love is full strength. I never wanted the diluted version. I never shied away from love’s hugeness but I had no idea that love could be as reliable as the sun. The daily rising of love.

To tell someone not to be emotional is to tell them to be dead.

Memory loss is one way of coping with damage. Me, I go to sleep. If I am upset I can be asleep in seconds. – I react like this to stress,  can sleep all the time when I’m stressed


unhappy families are conspiracies of silence.

Pursuing happiness, and I did, and I still do, is not at all the same as being happy – which I think is fleeting, dependent on circumstances, and a bit bovine.

The pursuit of happiness is more elusive; it is lifelong, and it is not goal-centred. What you are pursuing is meaning – a meaningful life.


I asked my mother why we couldn’t have books and she said, ‘The trouble with a book is that you never know what’s in it until it’s too late.’

Books, for me, are a home. Books don’t make a home – they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside. Inside there is a different kind of time and a different kind of space. – that’s why I love reading, wherever I am reading a book makes it my place.

Mrs Winterson:

She had lost something. It was a big something. She had lost/was losing life.

Mrs Winterson did not have a soothing personality. Ask for reassurance and it would never come. I never asked her if she loved me. She loved me on those days when she was able to love. I really believe that is the best she could do.


I remember thinking that I wouldn’t have to complete the end-of-year tax and VAT return. And I thought, ‘I wonder if they fine you if you don’t die of natural causes. Will Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs argue that I chose not to fill in my forms because I chose to kill myself? There is bound to be a penalty for that.’

Herman Hesse called suicide a state of mind – and there are a great many people, nominally alive, who have committed a suicide much worse than physical death. They have vacated life. I did not want to vacate life. I loved life.


The Condition of the Working Class in England is still worth reading – a frightening, upsetting account of the effects of the Industrial Revolution on ordinary people – what happens when people ‘regard each other only as useful objects’.

I dreamed of escape – but what is terrible about industrialisation is that it makes escape necessary. In a system that generates masses, individualism is the only way out. But then what happens to community – to society?

Probably we are less tolerant of madness now than at any period in history. There is no place for it. Crucially, there is no time for it. Going mad takes time. Getting sane takes time.

I did not realise that when money becomes the core value, then education drives towards utility or that the life of the mind will not be counted as a good unless it produces measurable results. That public services will no longer be important. That an alternative life to getting and spending will become very difficult as cheap housing disappears. That when communities are destroyed only misery and intolerance are left.

Her thoughts remind me a lot of 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary. There is not place for madness and there is no place for sleep in productivity obsessed world. 

My review of Why Be Happy If You Could Be Normal?

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

7 thoughts on “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal – Jeanette Winterson – Quotes

  1. I have had Jeanette Winterson on my to-read list for far too long. I would love to finally read one of her books. I’d read this one just for the quotes. Have you read any of her others?


  2. Sarah

    I loved this book so much that for months afterwards anyone with a birthday got bought a copy. ‘Oranges are not the only Fruit’ and ‘Lighthousekeeping’ are fantastic too.


  3. I purchased the book after reading your review and so far the book is very good. I am only through chapter four and two quotes I liked in that chapter were “the whole of life is about another chance, and while we are alive, till the very end, there is always another chance” and “a tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.” Thanks for the great collection of quotes and the book recommendation.


  4. Pingback: Why Be Happy If You Could Be Normal? – Jeanette Winterson – bookskeptic.com

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