The shocking, heart-breaking - and often very funny - true story behind Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
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Published: 12 April 2012
Genre: Biography & autobiography
In 1985 Jeanette Winterson's first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, was published. It was Jeanette's version of the story of a terraced house in Accrington, an adopted child, and the thwarted giantess Mrs Winterson. It was a cover story, a painful past written over and repainted. It was a story of survival.This book is that story's the silent twin. It is full of hurt and humour and a fierce love of life. It is about the pursuit of happiness, about lessons in love, the search for a mother and a journey into madness and out again. It is generous, honest and true.
Vivid, unpredictable, and sometimes mind-rattling memoir... This book... which had been funny enough to make me laugh out loud more times than is advisable on the No 12 bus - turns into something raw and unnerving
Julie Myerson, Observer
This is certainly the most moving book of Winterson's I have ever read... but it wriggles with humour... At one point I was crying so much I had tears in my ears. There is much here that is impressive, but what I find most unusual about it is the way it deepens one's sympathy, for everyone involved
Zoe Williams, Guardian
In the 26 years since the publication of her highly acclaimed first novel, Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson has proved herself a writer of startling invention, originality and style. Her combination of the magical and the earthy, the rapturous and the matter-of-fact, is unique. It is a strange and felicitous gift, as if the best of Gabriel Garcia Marquez was combined with the best of Alan Bennett... This remarkable account is, among other things, a powerful argument for reading... This memoir is brave and beautiful, a testament to the forces of intelligence, heart and imagination. It is a marvellous book and generous one
Both inspiring and appalling, its cruellest details only made digestible by the restrained elegance of Winterson's prose
Independent on Sunday
An essential new book... she is a natural memoirist. The first half is a mature retelling of her masterwork, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit... The second half is a wry, urgent account of her hunt for her birth mother... Pressed on by the need for self discovery, the prose doesn't miss a beat... it feels risky and alive
A dazzling autobiography, this is a love letter to literature as a means to survive
While Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is rich in autobiographical detail, it is a wide and bold an experiment in the memoir form as any so far written... in writing that is astonishingly naked and brave, Winterson reveals the legacy of that difficult and painful childhood... Much of this book is laugh-out-loud funny... Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is proudly, and sometimes painfully, honest.It is also, arguably, the finest and most hopeful memoir to emerge in many years and, as such, it should not be missed
John Burnside, The Times
It is clear from the first page of this shattering, brilliant memoir that the black humour of Oranges was there to disguise the true awfulness of her childhood. If things were bad in Winterson's fictional world, the reality was much, much worse... There is a sense at the end of this brave, funny, heartbreaking book that Winterson has somehow reconciled herself to her past... Her childhood was ghastly, as bad as Dickens's stint in the blacking factory, but it was also the crucible for her incendiary talent
Daisy Goodwin, Sunday Times
Boasts everything that she does best: courage, ferocity and prose that soars
Julie Myerson, New Statesman, Books of the Year
In memoir, honesty matters more than anything but, when married with humour, wit and elan vital of Jeanette Winterson's [book], it is a transformative force
John Burnside, New Statesman, Books of the Year
The specifics of her early abuse is vivid, violent, and no less horrifying for its familiarity... If the memoir was begun as a final exorcism of the monster mother, it ends with a moving acceptance of her
Moved me deeply. [It] celebrates the redeeming power of the written word and is undercut with an irresistible humour born of residence in hardship
Juliet Nicholson, Evening Standard, Books of the Year
An extraordinary tragic-comic literary autobiography
Mark Lawson, Guardian, Books of the Year
There is something darkly Dickensian in the urgency and energy of her character and quest, in the acute, abrupt style of her self-presentation and in the extreme characters who have informed her life
Funny and scary mixed together, in the manner of the Brothers Grimm, sharp as a knife, round as a child's eye
Difficult, spirited, engaging... a resonant affirmation of the power of storytelling to make things better
Jane Shilling, Daily Mail
Zoe Williams, Guardian
Shattering, brilliant memoir... Here childhood eas ghastly, as bad as Dickens's stint in the blacking factory, but it was also the crucible for her incendiary talent
Daisy Goodwin, Sunday Times
Verbalyl dazzling, emotionally searing, compassionate and often hilarious memoir
Genevieve Fox, Daily Mail
Jeanette Winterson's new memoir appears to have been highly praised, rightly it seems to me, for its zest and candour and noted for a quality that some reviewers have seen as haste or even carelessness but which I see as her characteristic lively, pugnacious inventiveness.
Nicholas Murray, Bibliophilic Blogger
The prose is breathtaking: witty, biblical, chatty and vigorous all at once. She defines the pursuit of happiness not as being content (which is 'fleeting' and 'a bit bovine'), but as the impulse to 'swim upstream', the search for a meaningful life. This breathless, powerful book is that search.
Emily Strokes, Financial Times
Winterson is a bold author with a track record of writing imaginative transformation tales, and this is a work about the power of words, stories and books to give identity to a life that is in turns shocking, funny, warm and wise.
Tina Jackson, Metro
There clear-eyed, drily witty, searingly moving memoir.
Katie Owen, Telegraph
It does all that committed fans might hope... This is far funnier than the novel that made Winterson’s name... Brilliant book.
Catherine Nixey, The Times
An inspirational memoir written in beautiful exact prose that celebrates the wildness of the ordinary. Winterson’s understanding of who she is… is both appallingly funny and deeply moving. Essential reading for anyone with a snitch of an interest in writing
Rachel Joyce, The Times
Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? burrowed deep and made me laugh and weep. This memoir has a great warmth and an intensity and honesty that is rare and the writing is exceptional
Jamie Byng, Herald
Winterson’s unconventional and winning memoir wrings humor from adversity as it describes her upbringing by a wildly deranged mother
New York Times
I didn't read Oranges as I thought that the subject matter didn't interest me I was under the impression it was about lesbians. Of course though this isn't the subject of either book. Why Be Happy is about an individuals search for self amongst the turmoil of being adopted. Her adoptee parents didn't deserve her or indeed want her but they did however give her the courage by default to get an education and use her inborn talents, a trait that her birth mothers relatives sadly never realised.It wasn't a funny book to me, just sad and a memoir of steely survival.
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Jeanette Winterson OBE is the author of ten novels, including Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, The Passion and Written on the Body; a book of short stories, The World and Other Places; a collection of essays ...