I started Jeanette Winterson’s latest book before Christmas, it was a paperback proof copy. I don’t usually like proofs, but this one is pretty much like an ordinary paperback, so it was fine and passed my criteria for readability.
But then I got a Kindle for Christmas. Well, initially I got a Kinder Surprise! The hints had been dropped, and clearly picked up, but through the Chinese whispers the desirable object had transformed itself into a wee plastic toy inside a small chocolate egg. Not a bad egg, but still a chocolate egg, and I don’t eat chocolate any more. Well, not much. But it certainly was a Surprise! It was also not the real present, and the Kindle-Not-Such-A-Surprise-Afterall came close behind the disappointing chocolate egg.
So, I had to try out my new gift straight away didn’t I? And that meant that the half-read Why Be Happy… lay forlorn for a few weeks until I had read the last book in the Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy, and then also Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie which we will be discussing at book group this week.
But today I picked up Why Be Happy… again, and curled up on the sofa to read it. And I didn’t get up again until I’d finished.
What a book. For those that don’t know, this is a story of her life, the ‘true’ story behind Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. I read Oranges.. when it was first published all those years ago – last year was the 20th anniversary of its publication.
I remember reading it vividly. I had recently become a Samaritan volunteer, and discovered the fiction of both Jeanette Winterson and Jenny Diski – I voraciously read everything they published, loving their fictionalised worlds. As a Samaritan I was in a new world, of peoples’ emotions and feelings, of loss and despair, of love and rejection, but most of all a world full of expression. People were expressing their feelings to me, and it was rarely easy for them. It was my role to help them, to hold them as they dug deep within themselves and talked about themselves in terms of their feelings. It felt absolutely right for me, this listening to others, being a vessel to hold their fears while they discovered what they’d been hiding for so long. I don’t know why it felt right, but it did. And an enormous privilege.
So, now coming full circle and reading Why Be Happy… I am reminded of those conversations, of the nameless, anonymous, faceless people who told me their secrets. I know how hard it was for them to open themselves to one single anonymous faceless individual. And I am blown away at how Jeanette Winterson has expressed so much emotion in a book, laying her emotions bare for all to read. It is a brave book. It is a glorious book, full of anger, and hurt, and longing. Deep, deep longing. It is about love, and the search for love. And about loss, and the loss of loss.
But have a hankie ready.
Any suggestions for what to read next?