“When my mother was angry with me, which was often, she said, ‘The Devil led us to the wrong crib.’”
This is how the memoir begins. Entirely fitting, giving over the opening line to “Mrs Winterson” (as she’s more frequently referred to, not mother) because the over-riding influence on JW’s life would seem to be the woman who adopted her. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t setting my story against hers,” JW writes in chapter 1.
It’s a brave book and easy to like, though JW in the flesh would be difficult, I think. There is no narrative thrust – it is memoir, not autobiography – but it’s chock full of stories: as a child being locked out at night, or locked in the coal hole; the first sexual experience with another girl and the subsequent three-day exorcism; escaping to Oxford University, and the phone call to the disapproving Mrs W when Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is published. After skipping 25 or so years, there are the stories of her breakdown, the search for her birth mother, their meeting. And interspersing all the stories are JW’s ruminations on subjects as diverse as St. Hilda, Margaret Thatcher, socialism, Manchester, books, church, and, above all, love: “The difficult word. Where everything starts, where we always return. Love. Love’s lack. The possibility of love.”
The title, incidentally, is what Mrs W said when JW told her that her relationship with a girl made her happy.
*** Highly recommended