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

Unusually for our group, everyone enjoyed this book.

May of us identified with the author’s childhood, where she wasn’t allowed to mix with other children and where corporal punishment was so long after misbehaviour that it seemed somehow unconnected.

Mrs. Winterson is a very strange woman with some very dotty beliefs but her church community, despite an abusive exorcism attempt, is loving and supportive and she is her own woman with some intelligent views about science: ‘This life is all mass. When we go, we’ll be all energy, that’s all there is to it.’

“Mrs Winterson didn’t want her body resurrected because she had never, ever loved it, not even for a single minute of a single day.”

I can clearly envisage the scene when they are out shopping: “We went past Woolworths — ‘A Den of Vice: Past Marks and Spencer’s — ‘The Jews killed Christ.’ Past the funeral parlour and the pie shop — ‘They share an oven: Past the biscuit stall and its moon-faced owners — ‘Incest.’ Past the pet parlour — ‘Bestiality’ Past the bank — ‘Usury’ Past the Citizens Advice Bureau — ‘Communists”

There are many humorous moments, such as making money out of deposits on returned bottles – just go round the back of the shop and take a couple of previously returned bottles out of their crates. A woman loses her false teeth in the baptism pool.

The author is a strong advocate of education for its own sake rather than simply a preparation for the world of work. After all, education was her own way out of her dysfunctional family. Some kindly adults, like the librarian, were good guides and show the importance of relationships between different generations.

Some found it unbelievable, a throwback to Dickensian times, that a child would be locked out all night yet our social worker member told us that these things still happen.

Some thought that this was overkill, too introspective (though maybe part of the author’s therapy), gratuitous after Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit had covered the same ground, though maybe this book gets the record straight and fills in some of the blanks left in the other book.

There is an element of crusading in her quest to find her birth mother. Parents who give up their children have rights too. However, her reflection on what it feels like to be adopted seems to me to be profound:  “The baby explodes into an unknown world that is only knowable through some kind of a story — of course that is how we all live, it’s the narrative of our lives, but adoption drops you into the story after it has started. It’s like reading a book with the first few pages missing. It’s like arriving after curtain up. The feeling that something is missing never, ever leaves you — and it can’t, and it shouldn’t, because something is missing.”

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