J. Winterson: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal

WHEN MY MOTHER was angry with me, which was often, she said, ‘The Devil led us to the wrong crib’

So begins Jeanette Winterson’s autobiography, a meditation of sorts on growing up adopted and the descent into dystopia that was her childhood; spent growing up in a Pentecostal home being groomed to be a missionary. It is a childhood that is quintessentially evangelical, replete with very regular church meetings, Biblical literalism, corporeal punishment and a feening for the apocalyptic dawn of the next world to the detriment of the enjoyment of this one. Looming large in that phase of growing up is the image of her adoptive mother, a controlling creature, intensely fundamentalist and addicted to her cigarettes, who both in her quiet moments and in her moments of rage ruled the roost,with the young Jeanette and her adoptive father as collateral damage.  Being adopted, and the uncertainties this brings to family relations is a recurring motif in the book, and her successful search to find her birth mother takes us through an emotional wringer.

A few choice quotes:

On the waves of Pakistani immigration to the North West of England:

Then, as now, nobody talked about the legacy of Empire. Britain had colonised, owned, occupied or interfered with half the world. We had carved up some countries and created others. When some of the world we had made by force wanted something in return, we were outraged.

On forgiveness:

Happy endings are only a pause. There are three kinds of big endings: Revenge. Tragedy. Forgiveness. Revenge and Tragedy often happen together. Forgiveness redeems the past. Forgiveness unblocks the future.

On writing:

It took me a long time to realise that there are two kinds of writing; the one you write and the one that writes you. The one that writes you is dangerous. You go where you don’t want to go. You look where you don’t want to look.

In the end, she evolves into perhaps the antithesis of an evangelical missionary – she falls in love with a woman –  which prompts the statement from her mother which becomes the title of the book.

Listen to the Radio Open Source interview here.

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