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'.

11 comments:

  1. Hi Doris, thank you for visiting my blog today, thought I'd pop over and say hello. Although I've not read this book, I did hear J W being interviewed about it on the radio, and she mentioned the phrase about her adoptive mother being 'my monster' which struck me as unusual.

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    1. This link up is great for finding new blogs. Thanks for visiting me too.

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  2. I loved Winterson's The Passion.
    Such an interesting issue you raise here concerning memory and 'truth'. J. M. Coetzee says something to the effect of: autobiography isn't necessarily about the facts, it's about how the person in question feels about and views those facts (loosely rephrased). Hence it is your interpretation and your experience of things that count more than the bare facts.

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    1. I've not read 'The Passion' . Tried other books by JW and didn't enjoy them but might give this one a try. I agree with Coetzee - where did he write this?

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    2. Coetzee: If I remember correctly (back to university days here) in an essay called "Truth in Autobiography."
      Funnily enough I'm not a great JW fan - except for The Passion (and Oranges...) which made a huge impression on me. I thought it was a postmodern masterpiece.

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  3. Hello Doris and thanks for visiting me. I have never got on with Jeanette Winterson at all, there are some writers you just don't enjoy, which is perhaps just as well. Imagine how many books would be waiting to be read if you read indiscriminately, just took this book and that, added it to the pile, with not a thought to whether or not you'd actually like it. I've come to realise there is too little time left to waste on books I am not enjoying,but it's hard not to be tempted by some of the recommendations on this year in books!

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    1. I know - my list is getting very long. I borrow lots of library books and then at least I don't fell obliged to finish a book I'm not enjoying because I've spent the money. The Kindle samples are also good for this.

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  4. I have only read "Oranges are not the only fruit" and I have to admit, I didn't enjoy the read so much, although I found it interesting. I felt a bit depressed after reading it. I did wonder how much of Winterson's own childhood and adolescence is reflected in this work of fiction. I may have to pick up "why happy when you could be normal" to enlighten me. I also think I would enjoy being in your English class! I might have to get English qualifications this Autumn, should I decide to retrain as a High School teacher. On a completely different topic: Would you be happy to be passed on the Liebster Award? This is a "blog baton relay" and is awarded to bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. I was passed the baton by Penny from the first comment. I tried to find your email address but was unsuccessful. My email is christinascolourfullife@gmail.com.

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    1. Thank you Christina. I'd love to be passed this award. I'm away from home this weekend but will email you when I return.

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  5. 'Oranges' is sitting on my shelf to read when I get some time, I loved her book The Stone Gods. I am a great admirer of Donna Tartt, The Little Friend being one of my favourite books, so will be adding the Goldfinch to my very long 'to be read' list. I enjoyed Wide Sargasso Sea, it reinforced my dislike of Rochester! Chickpea x

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    1. I'm not so keen on him either. JW said that her mother read her Jane Eyre but changed the ending so that she married St John Rivers instead and became a missionary. Not sure this would be any worse than a life of caring for the blind Rochester. Looking forward to the Wide Sargasso Sea for another view of him.

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