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

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

I don't want to review this book. I don't know how to review this book. This will be one of the toughest review for me to write this year. Then again, it was one of the toughest reads I've had this year.

I have zero experience when it comes to adoption. Jeanette Winterson has. This is her memoir and it focuses on her family. The family that adopted her. Most of all she focuses on her mother who was religious and mentally unstable. Winterson did, during her youth, realize that she liked girls. Her mother and that fact did not fit well. Everything combined, Winterson was more than a little lost in her youth, with barely a home to recognize and an unhealthy relationship to love.

It's strange to review biographies. At least I find it to be the case. Who am I to comment on some other person's life? What can I comment? How can I do it? That's why I rarely, if ever, review memoirs or biographies. This time, I feel the need to do so even if I don't quite want to.

I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it.


I, as said, have no experience of adoption. What I do have experience with is the feeling of being lost. Of being drained. Of being mentally exhausted to the point of barely having the energy to contemplate that there might be a tomorrow. Even if my history differs a great deal from Winterson's, they have a lot in common when it comes to the emotional parts. Winterson has a way of describing these emotions in a clear, direct, and touching way. They touched me right in my heart and my mind. She spares no expenses when painting a picture of a turbulent childhood and youth that left her emotionally scarred in several ways. And I felt every word.

I've always tried to make a home for myself, but I have not felt at home in myself. I've worked hard at being the hero of my own life. But every time I checked the register of displaced persons, I was still on it. I didn't know how to belong. Longing? Yes. Belonging? No.


It's rare for books to touch me deeply. This book does. It's the kind of book people will see themselves in. The stories Winterson shares about her youth are short anecdotes. How these events shapes her into the woman she is today. Even when the events are heartbreaking. When they are wonderful. When they are both.

I can imagine many people recognizing themselves in Winterson's story despite not sharing a single event with her. What child or youth doesn't feel lost at some point? Who hasn't wondered about their sexuality? Who hasn't wondered if there is more to life than the small bubble they live in? Who hasn't experienced the feeling of being lost, more or less? These are parts in every human being that are growing up, even if they are smaller or bigger parts of his or hers life? Winterson puts these questions and the thoughts around them into words.

Personally, Winterson's words brought me back to a dark period of my life when I was, just like her, more than a little lost. The whys aren't important here, as it is Winterson's story. But where we ended up was in a dark place, both of us, judging by her story presented in this book. A place called depression. Neither when she writes about this topic there's no holding back. She tells it like it was, for her. For me, I had the usual comment when I told people about my mental state. Why not just be happy? or similar. One line that touched me far too deep in this book is a side of this comment that few people realize.

To tell someone not to be emotional is to tell them to be dead.


I had to stop after reading this line for a few minutes. It brought back too many memories from my bad days. Because I recalled one of those truly bad days when someone asked me why I couldn't just be happy, and I thought this person could've asked a dead person the same thing.

I still don't want to review this book. I can't do it justice for the intimacy it offers. It's too personal yet too close to my own experiences which I can rarely put into words that are comprehensive. Winterson does this, and she does it both authentically and brilliantly. Even if it is her story, it's more than that. There are many lessons on growing up, on love, on home, and on life in general. It's simply so much more.

Growing up is difficult. Strangely, even when we have stopped growing physically, we seem to have to keep on growing emotionally, which involves both expansion and shrinkage, as some parts of us develop and others must be allowed to disappear...Rigidity never works; we end up being the wrong size for our world.