Sometimes you may read a book which you wish you could have written – because it tells your story or it doesn’t. In Why be Happy when you could be Normal? Jeannette Winterson has written a memoir of adoption which is both universal and utterly unique.
Unique: Whilst she is not alone in having a violent and abusive mother and a silent, disengaged father (“He had never talked much, him being clumsy and unsure with language.” “….he didn’t fight for me”), her adoptive mother, Mrs Winterson, with her sadistic blend of violence, withdrawal and Pentecostal religion is monstrous beyond belief, ‘she was a monster but she was my monster’.
The one good thing about being shut in a coalhole is that it prompts reflection.
Universal: The adoptee’s fear of abandonment, of never being loved enough, of never really, really being wanted (“How do you trust another person to love you? I had no idea . I thought love was loss”). She speaks of having 2 failed families – the birth family and the adoptive family – “the first one was not my fault but all adopted children blame themselves”
Adoption begins on your own – you are solitary. The baby knows it has been abandoned
And literature saved her life: It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place. Fiction and poetry are doses, medecines. What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.
It’s a quest story but ultimately a redemption story – of becoming ‘because’ not ‘despite’
“We need better stories about adoption”
Do you have an adoption story to tell?
Adopted children are self-invented because they have to be….adoption drops you into the story after it has started . It’s like reading a book with the first few pages missing…..The feeling that something is missing never, ever leaves you…..
BUT The missing part, the missing past, can be an opening, not a void.
What are the first few pages of your story?