A New York Times bestseller: The “magnificent” memoir by one of the bravest and most original writers of our time—“A tour de force of literature and love” (Vogue).
One of the New York Times’ “50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years”
Jeanette Winterson’s bold and revelatory novels have established her as a major figure in world literature. Her internationally best-selling debut, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, tells the story of a young girl adopted by Pentecostal parents, and has become a staple of required reading in contemporary fiction classes.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a “singular and electric” memoir about a life’s work to find happiness (The New York Times). It is a book full of stories: about a girl locked out of her home, sitting on the doorstep all night; about a religious zealot disguised as a mother who has two sets of false teeth and a revolver in the dresser, waiting for Armageddon; about growing up in a north England industrial town now changed beyond recognition; about the universe as a cosmic dustbin. It is the story of how a painful past, rose to haunt the author later in life, sending her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her biological mother. It is also a book about the power of literature, showing how fiction and poetry can form a string of guiding lights, or a life raft that supports us when we are sinking.
Witty, acute, fierce, and celebratory, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a tough-minded story of the search for belonging—for love, identity, home, and a mother.
"What would it have meant to be happy? What would it have meant if things had been bright, clear, good between us?" Winterson (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit) asks of her relationship with her adoptive mother, questions that haunt this raw memoir to its final pages. Winterson first finds solace in the Accrington Public Library in Lancashire, where she stumbles across T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral and begins to cry: "the unfamiliar and beautiful play made things bearable that day." She is asked to leave the library for crying and sits on the steps in "the usual northern gale" to finish the book. The rest is history. Highly improbably for a woman of her class, she gets into Oxford and goes on to have a very successful literary career. But she finds that literature and literary success can only fulfill so much in her. There's another ingredient missing: love. The latter part of the book concerns itself with this quest, in which Winterson learns that the problem is not so much being gay (for which her mother tells her "you'll be in Hell") as it is in the complex nature of how to love anyone when one has only known perverse love as a child. This is a highly unusual, scrupulously honest, and endearing memoir.