Archive for October, 2012

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester and adopted by Pentecostal parents who brought her up in the nearby mill-town of Accrington. As a Northern working class girl she was not encouraged to be clever. Her adopted father was a factory worker, her mother stayed at home. There were only six books in the house, including the Bible and Cruden’s Complete Concordance to the Old and New Testaments. Strangely, one of the other books was Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, and it was this that started her life quest of reading and writing. The house had no bathroom either, which was fortunate because it meant that Jeanette could read her books by flashlight in the outside toilet. Reading was not much approved unless it was the Bible. Her parents intended her for the missionary field. Schooling was erratic but Jeanette had got herself into a girl’s grammar school and later she read English at Oxford University. This was not an easy transition. Jeanette had left home at 16 after falling in love with another girl. While she took her A levels she lived in various places, supporting herself by evening and weekend work. In a year off to earn money, she worked as a domestic in a lunatic asylum.

Having read Oranges are not the only Fruit at college I was really looking forward to this months book choice as I did find Oranges a truly fantastic read. But – when I began to read this book I really struggled to keep my concentration. Not only was it a narration of one’s life, but it was a boring one at that. Pressing on I was determined to finish the book and I’m glad that I did. Witty, funny and depressing at times, this book was but a dip in the pool of what is Jeanette’s life and it made for a very interesting read. In some places the book seems almost hurried and could almost be written in note form – which it probably was – but I do feel that this only adds to the memoir and gives the reader a raw and open view into the life of this troubled author.

As I made my way to our meeting I was feeling quite excited as I thought that we had some juicy discussions that we could squeeze out of the novel without breaking into too much of a sweat. We had a few conflicting opinions about the book which created some really good discussions and raised some difficult questions. The humour was certainly an aspect of the book that we could all relate to as there were a good few bits that really were rib-ticklers, but the style of writing and sometimes vague descriptions (and seemingly irrelevant ramblings) did niggle a few of our readers.

On a whole this was a well received book and one thing we could all agree on was that it must have been incredibly hard for Jeanette to have written this and most certainly been difficult for her to deal with her problematic life in the 1960s. To dig her way out of the hole that was her life and become the author she is now is certainly an achievement worth talking about. It didn’t suit everyone but if you’re a fan of Jeanette’s other works then I’m sure you won’t be disappointed with this one.

Interesting, reflective and educational – The Music Room by William Fiennes

Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire is a 700-year-old stately home which nowadays attracts numerous visitors and film crews. The castle has been in many a film including Shakespeare in Love, Three Men and a Little Lady and also The Madness of King George. William Fiennes, whose family has lived there for centuries, is a journalist and writer whose previous autobiographical book, The Snow Geese, ended with him returning to Broughton. The Music Room is William’s own account of growing up there, in particular with his older brother Richard who suffered from severe epilepsy and was often very difficult and even violent.

The narrative is easy to understand but in some parts the factual information can become quite in depth and confusing at times. The pace does seem to be a bit on the slow side and can get quite repetitive in parts, but the story does move along from William’s younger years up to his adult life. Albeit a little ‘self-indulgent’ at times it is an interesting memoir and will educate along the way.

I wasn’t too sure what everyone would make of this book but I was pleasantly surprised that it made for quite a good discussion. Some of us thought that the book lacked that personal touch and emotion that we wanted to feel from the main narrator, whilst others thought that the story was enough to keep us turning those pages. Some readers felt that the author possibly became lost in his own narrative and didn’t really get to the bones of the story, and did seem to skip a few years making it a little puzzling at times as events seemed to happen too quickly.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book and found it very thought provoking. It really opened my eyes to epilepsy and I found that the factual chapters throughout the book broadened my knowledge of this relatively common, life changing condition.

Although we did have mixed opinions we all found it an interesting read and would look at reading more of William Fiennes work.

Here is a link to an interview with William Fiennes himself:

About the group

The Tees Valley Book Group meets at Stockton Central Library at 6.30pm on the first Tuesday of the month.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit


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