Tuesday 22 September 2015

Mini-Reviews: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Cranford and Made For You

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Jeanette Winterson
240|Vintage|12th April 2012

In 1985 Jeanette Winterson’s first novel, Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, was published. It was Jeanette’s version of the story of a terraced house in Accrington, an adopted child, and the thwarted giantess Mrs Winterson. It was a cover story, a painful past written over and repainted. It was a story of survival.

This story is that book’s silent twin. It is full of hurt and humour and a fierce love of life. It is about the pursuit of happiness, about lessons in love, the search for a mother and a journey into madness and out again. It is generous, honest and true.

I read Oranges are Not the Only Fruit during my third year of university for my Women’s Writing module and fell in love with it. Ridiculously, it’s taken me nearly three years to get around to picking up another of hers.

Having read Oranges, lots from the first half of Jeanette’s story was familiar: growing up with a deeply religious mother, her feelings of loss, abandonment and yearning for love, falling in love with women and eventually leaving home, but Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? takes the reader further into how those experiences bled into her writing and the process of finding her birth mother. It’s a very emotional story, particularly towards the end and I did tear up a little bit.

But one of my favourite elements of the book was Winterson’s focus on books, words and language and how they saved her life over and over again. As a young teenager, Winterson began reading through the literary prose a-z in her local library and accidentally stumbled upon poetry. I loved hearing how what she read influenced her writing, introduced her to feminism and taught her about the love she didn’t get growing up. This then extended into her experience of reading English at Oxford where the female representation was so minimal that with her friends she set up a reading group where they delved into modern and female-led/written fiction.

Jeanette Winterson’s writing is poetic, emotive and beautiful and I've already bought another of her novels to read. It definitely won't take me nearly three years to get to that one, promise!

Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell
304|Penguin Clothbound Classics|6th November 2008
(Originally published 1851-3)

Gaskell’s best known work is set in a small rural town, inhabited largely by women. This is a community that runs on cooperation and gossip, at the very heart of which are the daughters of the former rector: Miss Deborah Jenkyns and her sister Miss Matty. But domestic peace is constantly threatened in the form of financial disaster, imagined burglaries, tragic accidents, and the reappearance of long-lost relatives.

For some reason I can’t quite identify, I’d had the need to read Cranford for a few weeks before I decided to take the plunge. It was a gentle, easy read.

Cranford is a rural English run pretty much by women. The older women are either widowed or unmarried and the younger ones are working in the houses of the older generation. Most residents of Cranford are afflicted by a ‘genteel poverty’: they can afford to live without working, but they live to a strict budget and have none of the luxuries that ladies of higher station would do. The novel details the minutiae of their lives and paints a wonderful picture of a small, rural English community in the early-mid 1800s changing under industrialisation.

But for me, the strongest impression that Gaskell’s most famous work left on me was of the community of Cranford. Though there is a social structure among them and there are quibbles and judgements, when one of their own is in trouble, they all rally together. It actually brought a tear to my eye how much they put into getting Miss Matty back on her feet; it made me sad that it isn’t something that exists as much now.

Cranford is a quick, easy read that’s perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon and although I won't rush to get to it, I’m looking forward to exploring more of Gaskell’s work, starting with North and South, I think!

Made For You, Melissa Marr
356|Harper Collins|26th March 2015

Eva Tilling wakes up in hospital to discover she has been the victim of a hit-and-run.

As she struggles to understand who in the sleepy town of Jessup would want to hurt her, she is plagued by visions of her friends dying – and then a slew of murders take places, with eerie messages to Eva left beside the bodies.

An old friend offers his help and protection, but the killer is obsessed and will stop at nothing to get to Eva…

Though I'm a long-time fan of Melissa Marr’s, I went into Made For You with no expectations and just the intention to get it off my TBR. I ended up thoroughly enjoying it!

All of Marr’s work that I've read before has been YA urban fantasy so I didn’t really know what to expect from a YA thriller, but she delivered her slow, dramatic reveals, relationships you root for, well-rounded characters and perfect pacing as usual. Made For You has made me remember why I fell in love with her writing with Wicked Lovely all those years ago.

Set in small town North Carolina, Ava and her whole community live within the restraints of being good Southern girls and boys and nothing bad happens in the small town of Jessup. Until Ava nearly killed in a hit and run accident, and then her friends start to die around her, all with messages for Ava. I loved the contrast between the quaint, genteel town and the unbelievably creepiness that was delivered in the chapters from Judge (the murderer’s) point of view and the clues left for Ava. The religious justification and sexual undertones to everything made me shudder in disgust and I was genuinely surprised at the reveal. A tense, dramatic showdown ensued and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Made For You is a fast-paced, intriguing and genuinely creepy thriller – I completely recommend it!


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