March 2012

Searching for a happy ending

By Jeanette Winterson
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Ever since the publication of her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, countless readers have wondered just how much of that semi-autobiographical tale Jeanette Winterson drew from her own life. Now with Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Winterson pulls back the veil on her life as she really lived it and shows us that truth is not only stranger than fiction, but more painful and more beautiful as well.

Winterson’s newest book is a searing and candid revelation of her life to date. More than an autobiography, it is a thoughtful rumination on all the things that make life worth living. From her hardscrabble upbringing to her fraught relationships with religion, sexuality and her rancorous adoptive mother; to the way the knowledge of her adoption has always haunted her, teaching her so little about love yet so much about loss; to the fundamental ways in which literature, poetry and words have saved and forged her, Winterson holds nothing back, no matter how painful.

The book’s title comes from a pivotal conversation in which she revealed to her adoptive mother that she was in a happy relationship with another girl: “Why be happy when you could be normal?” was her mother’s response. Understandably, those words made an indelible impact on Winterson. Reflecting on her reasons behind writing Oranges as a work of fiction, she says she did so because at the time it was the only version of her life that she could actually live with, as she could not survive the truth. The glory of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is that it serves as proof that Winterson did survive her “other” life and came out stronger, braver and wiser for it.

Reeling from that fateful conversation with her mother, it is clear that every path Winterson has since walked has been in pursuit of this ultimate destination: happiness; yet readers will experience an awful lot of heartbreak and darkness in the pages of this book. Still, if Winterson is anything to go by, perhaps this is not such a bad thing. And while Winterson admits her journey is far from over, she offers us all hope that in life, as in fiction, there is always the possibility of a happy ending, if only we will search for it. Captivating in its content and written with poetic beauty, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a book that will surely inspire those who read it to do just that.

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