Thursday, 3 July 2014
The Year in Books: July plans and reflections on autobiography
I loved 'Oranges are not the Only Fruit', Jeanette Winterson's fictionalised account of her childhood and teenage years. In my June read 'Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?' she revisits her past but this time it's autobiography. Actually I didn't enjoy this version of her story anywhere near as much as 'Oranges'. I knew what happened to her and nothing more was revealed here, though I did like the portrayal of the English teacher who put her up and encouraged her to apply for Oxford when her mother threw her out. Also I was a bit surprised by her decision to refer to her adopted mother (she who says the words which give this book its title) as Mrs Winterson. In fact, I felt a bit of sympathy for her mother at times. I found myself wondering about how these events would read if Mrs Winterson had told them. In fact that would be an interesting thing to do with the novel - a lesson plan in the making! She also does not mention her mother's early death at all, though she does seem to have been reconciled to her father in later years. There are some details about Jeanette's later life and how she finds it difficult to love, having been denied it in childhood. Yet she seems proud to list several of her partners, including film director Deborah Warner and Susie Orbach. She also writes about finding her birth mother Ann; no happy ending but a question answered. I like these lines from the end of the book which show the complexity of her feelings:
'I am interested in nature/nurture. I notice that I hate Ann criticising Mrs Winterson. She was a monster but she was my monster'.
All this got me thinking about the blurred distinctions between autobiography, memoir and fictionalised real events. Autobiography cannot actually be 'pure' or true as it is filtered by memory. Another line from Jeanette Winterson's book is: 'It is a true story but it is a version.' When I wrote about my childhood memories and showed the results to my sisters I discovered that they had a different recollection of the same events or that they remembered in detail things and even people I had forgotten. There's a book about the nature of memory, the title of which escapes me at present, but it's in a notebook somewhere. If I can find it, I will add it to my July list.
In July there should be time for more reading as term ends next week. So I plan to read 'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt which others have recommended on this link up. And I like the sound of 'Perfect' by Rachel Joyce, the Harold Fry writer. I would also like to read Jean Rhys's 'Wide Sargasso Sea', 'Jane Eyre' as told by Rochester's wife 'the madwoman in the attic'.