Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?

Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Wintersonby Jeanette Winterson
ISBN: 9780802120106

I’d been looking forward to reading this book since I first heard of its existence and more or less patiently waited for it to be released in the US. Here’s the quote that convinced me despite any misgivings I may have had, that I needed to read it:

So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language – and that’s what poetry is. That’s what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is.

It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.

Oh yes. This was going to be a Winterson book that mattered, one that wasn’t — despite being a memoir and so carrying an even greater risk — going to being all ego ego ego. Winterson being Winterson, she plays with form and doesn’t do the conventional thing, and pulls it off. It’s a story about motherhood, about needing a mother, and being lost and finding your way and how this is all messy and uncertain and you do things anyway when you have no choice, or feel like you have no choice. It’s about figuring out what love is and what it isn’t and how really, ‘what love is’ is an unanswerable concept that you keep trying to answer.

I think the title is brilliant. I suspect if you were any kind of weirdo as a kid, you understand the question in your bones.

Recommended if: you are a Winterson fan, you were raised by religious extremists and you aren’t one yourself, if you enjoy writers’ memoirs, if you want to read an unapologetic argument as to the vital importance of stories in all our lives.

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