Thursday 11 July 2013

Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal

Why be happy when you could be normal?

A great question - if asked with a huge, sarcastic wink.  An intriguing, eye-catching choice if used as a book title...

I confess I chose the volume for the phrase alone, but the fact that it was written by Jeanette Winterson was a welcome bonus. 

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal is Winterson's autobiography, focusing mainly on her relationship with adopted mother and search for the biological one.  The book is labelled as 'lesbian literature' (by Amazon at least) although I have some doubts as to the suitability of this classification.  Yes, the author happens to be homosexual and does not avoid sexuality in her writings.  Yes, she does wonder if her childhood experiences influenced her future sexual orientation.  That's pretty much as far as she goes on gay issues.  Otherwise, the book is about human-to-human relationships and search for happiness. 

To my eye, Winterson's household was pretty dreadful.  I guess today her experiences would count as childhood abuse.  Mentally unstable, fanatically religious mother is the main character in the tale.  I find it easy to believe that such a relationship shaped the daughter for life, not always in positive way.  Still - this is a happy end story, more or less.  Demons of the past can be exorcised, to a degree. 

I usually enjoy Winterson's highly poetic, dreamy style.  She's a talented writer and if you fancy soul searching and excavating the depths of human mind, you'll probably like it too.  Winterson's writing is definitely not conventional, neither are her life choices.  There's plenty of darkness in her words, touches of madness and quite a lot of heartbreak, but light and joy and excitement are present as well - very lifelike.  The message, at the end, is hopeful:  mind heals itself. 

Oh, and a warning:  watch out for those, who want to 'normalise' you by force.  The damage might be hard to undo. 

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