Friday, 5 April 2013

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson


When I was a pretentious teenager who had just stolen the spare tv to watch inappropriate tv secretly in her room I used to watch a lot of Newsnight Review. I really don’t know why because I’d never read the books or seen the films they were talking about. I just liked it because it made me feel clever. The main things I remember about it are Miranda Sawyer’s hair (I drew diagrams in my diary) and Jeanette Winterson.

The Jeanette Winterson I saw on that programme was the Jeanette Winterson that stayed in my imagination for a long time. She was intense and argumentative and she seemed like a twitchy little squirrel. I was a little scared of her. Then I read Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit as a teenager (like everyone does) and I can’t say I remember much about it except for the foreword in my edition where she talked about being poor and glad the coloured knickers were the fashion because she couldn’t afford a separate whites wash at the laundrette. This didn’t tally at all with my idea of her as scary and twitching and severe. For a long time I left it there. Jeannette Winterson was the embodiment of scary and serious feminism that I didn't understand and found intimidating and severe. 

I thought of Winterson as very severe and intimidating (aka. someone who would definitely think I was an idiot) for a long time. It faded a bit once I'd learned more about feminism but I never really lost the idea that she was serious and would hate me! But then I watched this tv programme she did about 

Shall I talk about the book now?

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Is the best title. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit was pretty good but this is better. How could anyone resist a book with that title and a cute child with a beach ball on the cover? The title is like a self-help book gone-wrong and it feels like a magical self-help book, a book that demands to be re-read regularly. I want to get it back from my mother (who demanded to read it as soon as possible) and underline huge sections. 

I still haven't talked about what's actually IN the book. It's a book about loving books and being adopted and being gay and mental illness. Jeanette lives in a house where "HE WILL MELT THY BOWELS LIKE WAX" is on the back of the loo door and her mother's church starves her when she has a relationship with another girls. So much of what happens to Jeanette, at least at the start of the book, is awful and yet I mostly remember laughing. 

Go and read it. 

p.s. I am totally mentally adding it to my teenage girl pack

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