Sunday, October 30, 2011

Page in the Life: Jeanette Winterson

While Jeanette Winterson's first novel found humour in her strange childhood, a new memoir reveals its true pain, finds Tanya Gold.

'I would have ended up with my spray tan and my boob job in Manchester': Jeanette Winterson
'I would have ended up with my spray tan and my boob job in Manchester': Jeanette Winterson Photo: Andrew Crowley
The real Jeanette Winterson is smaller than the Jeanette Winterson in my head. Why am I surprised? Was I expecting a 100ft-high Jeanette Winterson, floating like a comedy balloon above me? Perhaps I was, because I have just read her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? The Jeanette Winterson in her book is vast and eternal. But this one – the real one – is 5ft and tiny, with spiky brown hair. She is well dressed and friendly and utterly unsurprising, this woman who walked out of a book.
The memoir is a companion to her first and most famous novel – Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – and it feels like Oranges: the Truth. Her debut was a comic novel about what it was like to be adopted by two missionaries in Lancashire in the late Fifties. Mother (always Mrs Winterson in print) was vicious and half-mad, locking Jeanette in the coalhole or out on the step. Father was passive and tormented by his D-Day memories. Jeanette, in the way of children of unhappy marriages, was supposed to save them. When she couldn’t, her mother hated her for it, and when Jeanette had a lesbian affair at 16 she had her exorcised (yes, exorcised) and threw her out. A kindly English teacher helped her to Oxford University; no wonder so much of her fiction feels like a fairy tale.
Oranges, as everyone calls it, made her famous at 24, a celebrity “lesbian” author, who filled gossip columns for 15 years, before literary London turned on her and she ran away: the backlash was another incomprehensible abandonment. Oranges is a slick, witty book, with a preacher telling Bible stories in fuzzy felt and with invented friends, because the real Winterson, as she wrote later, “was always lonely”.
Full piece at The Telegraph.

And story at The Guardian

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