Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Truth for anyone is a very complex thing. For a writer, what you leave out says as much as those things you include. What lies beyond the margin of the text? The photographer frames the shot; writers frame their world.
Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
Having just read Anne Morrow Lindbergh's letters and diary excerpts, those sentences resonate. The lines are early enough in Winterson's memoir to come as an admission that she is not telling the whole story, but enough of the story to be the truth.
There are so many things we can't say, because they are too painful. We hope that the things we can say will soothe the rest, or appease it in some way. Stories are compensatory.
Winterson relates the story of an abused childhood and coming of age, her passion for words and language, coming out as a homosexual in '60's, her struggle to love and commit to relationships, the difficult dynamic she had with her adoptive mother, and the hunt for her birth mother. Most of all, for her quest for happiness. A lot of ground is covered in just 230 pages.

She comes across lines from T.S. Eliot that offers profound comfort: This is one moment, / But know that another / Shall pierce you with a sudden painful joy.
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 is what poetry is. That is what literature offers - a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn't a hiding place. It is a finding place.
There were only six books allowed in her childhood home. When Mrs. Winterson discovers the hundreds of paperbacks stored under Jeanette's bed, she burns them in a paraffin fire. Jeanette's response? 'Fuck it,' 'I can write my own.'

The memoir reminds me in many ways of Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight, another of the club's selections. Neither mother is pleased with the books their daughters wrote or how they are depicted; both authors take decades to come to peace with their mothers' legacies as best they can; and in the end the odyssey and quest is the source of their creative power.

I'm very interested to hear other reactions at our next Book Babes meeting. This was my pick at last year's AGM, in large part because the title is so perfect in and by itself, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? When I started reading the book in January/February the author's voice started to grate, but around that time I couldn't seem to connect with anything I was reading. This time I found the memoir pitch perfect.

We had a lovely evening down by the water, watching the sailboats go out to race.

7 out of 8 Book Babes who came liked the book, but there was one love-hate relationship. The book prompted a lot of discussion that night around adoption & motherhood.

You Tube has the BBC 1970s movie based on the author's first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Several of us said we were likely to read more from this author.

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