Title: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House UK
Genre: Autobiography, Non-Fiction
We think we know life and what it has in store for us. We like to predict. We feel safe in its outcome. We pattern it for ourselves and intend to stick to the pattern. And then there are some for who life doesn’t quite work out that way and they then chronicle stories we read and want more. Jeanette Winterson is one such writer, who I admire a lot and she has grown to be my favourite writer ever since I can remember. I vividly recall the first time I read, “Written on the Body” and re-read it several times, because I wanted to feel alive and it helped me feel that way. It is one of those books I will never ever forget. It had an impact and continues to.
“Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” was a question posed by Jeanette Winterson’s adoptive mother, when at sixteen Jeanette decided to leave home and study, and more so to be with her girlfriend, that her adoptive mother disapproved of. The title of her autobiography is the same.
I started reading this book two days ago and I have been taken on a rollercoaster ride with it. From Jeanette’s adoptive process to the conditions in which she was brought up – yearning for love, deprived of books (and reading them on the sly), left outside on the porch for doing or saying something inappropriate and not been given a chance to live to the freedom she snatched with both hands on leaving home, this book makes you wonder. A lot actually. About what home means and the sense of longing that prevails throughout life if you haven’t felt at home. The book towards the last few chapters also talks about Jeanette’s search of her real parents and the emotional ride through it all.
The fact that Mrs. Winterson (the foster mother), a woman of alarming eccentricity and neglectful cruelty believes that Jeanette was a child to whose crib Mrs. Winterson was led by the Devil and not God is enough to give the reader an inkling of the author’s growing years. Mrs. Winterson dreamed of the Apocalypse and the Second Coming, which Jeanette used as material for her first book, “Oranges are not the Only Fruit” beautifully. And then there were small joys – of the beach holiday she took with her parents, the kindness of the local librarian and of her English teacher Mrs. Ratlow, who took her in when she was left out, make you think about life and its adversities and the power of words that can make everything alright.
I could connect to this book on so many levels – from the time Ms. Winterson talks about books to love (about wanting to be love and not knowing how to love) to the confusion in her head to the clarity, I was enthralled by this book. It made me laugh. It made me cry. I will definitely go back to it again. Sink in its words. That’s the only way to love a book. Read it again. Read it the first time.