Angelika Overath – All the Colors of Snow – Sent Diary – Alle Farben des Schnees

Have you ever dreamt of moving to the place where you spend your holidays? That’s exactly what German journalist and writer Angelika Overath did in 2007. She, her husband, and their youngest child moved to Sent, a small village in the Engadine region of Switzerland. Before that, they lived in Tübingen, Germany, where her husband was a professor at the university. Her two older children stayed in Tübingen.

Shortly after they moved, Overath was asked whether she wanted to write something for a local newspaper about moving to her holiday home. That article was the starting point to this book— a diary of a little more than a year in her new home Sent.

I read a few of the diary entries in an anthology and liked them so much that I wanted to read her whole book. As a child, we used to spend many holidays in the Engadine region. My mother had a Swiss friend whose family owned a holiday home there. The scenery is spectacular and I was always fascinated to see how differently the seasons changed in the mountains. I never spent a Christmas there, only New Year, but it must be lovely as the parts I read in the anthology, and now reread, take place during Christmas and Overath describes so many wonderful things and interesting customs.

The descriptions of the changing seasons are some of the best parts in Overath’s “diary”. That and her joy to be somewhere she loves as much as she loves the Engadine. She describes what it takes to change status, to move away from being a tourist and become a local. In her case, it’s not that easy because, as you may know, the Engadine region is the Swiss region, where the fourth Swiss language – Romansh (Rätoromanisch) is spoken. People speak some German and Swiss but they distinctly prefer to speak their own language and in order to get fully accepted it’s better to learn to speak the local language.

While her son, who is only seven when they move, picks up Romansh easily at school, and her husband has a greater facility to learn Romansh, it’s not that easy for Angelika Overath to learn the language. But since she’s so enthusiastic, she uses a special way for herself, which I found quite ingenious and well-worth copying. In order to familiarize herself with the language, especially the nuances of the vocabulary – many words sound similar but have  a completely different meaning – she began to write poetry in Romansh. The result is quirky and playful. It’s a brilliant way to learn a new language.

I enjoyed this book a lot because of the beautiful descriptions of the landscape, and the many interesting people that populate these pages. The Overaths have a rich social life and meet many fascinating people. Sent seems to be a place that attracts a lot of foreigners, artist, writers. It’s also a place people seem to return to after having stayed abroad for a while.

My only small reservation concerns the term “diary”. In my opinion, this is rather a notebook than a diary. Angelika Overath herself, her interior life is almost completely absent from these pages. One can sense it was meant for an audience and not as personal as diaries normally are. But that’s a tiny reservation. It’s such a rich and diverse book that has a lot to say about moving to another country, learning a new language, new ways of living. It also describes beautifully the charm of living in a small community. And her love for the mountains, the short but intense summers, and the long, cold, snowy winters, can be felt on every page.

Sadly, so far, none of the books by Angelika Overath have been translated into English. This book would be interesting for American readers as there are several entries set in the US, during the summer, when both she and her husband teach at a college in Vermont. Since I liked the way she wrote, I might try one of her novels next.

Did you ever want to move to a place where you spent your holidays? I know I did. I often dream of moving to the South of France. It wouldn’t be a challenge language-wise, so, maybe, that doesn’t count.

Uwe Timm: In My Brother’s Shadow – Am Beispiel meines Bruders (2003)

in-my-brothers-shadowuwe-timm

Maybe you’ve never heard of Timm’s novella The Invention of Curried Sausage. If you haven’t, do yourself a favour and get it because it’s marvellous. Possibly because I loved that novella so much, I stayed away from In My Brother’s ShadowAm Beispiel meines Bruders, although I’d been keen on reading it since it came out in 2003. There’s not one reader or critic who doesn’t think it’s essential reading. But we all know how it goes – everyone praises something, and one has read another book by an author that one loved  . . . I’m glad I finally overcame my reluctance because if ever a book was essential reading – then it’s this one. And for many reasons, not only as a brilliant WWII and post-war memoir.

In his memoir In My Brother’s Shadow, Timm doesn’t only try to reconstruct his brother’s life and find out who he really was, but examines his own family and the German post-war society. Timm was born in 1940, the third and last child of his parents. His sister and brother were both over sixteen years older. His brother Karl-Heinz was his father’s favourite. When Karl-Heinz was severely wounded and later died in 1943, on the Eastern Front, in the Ukraine, his father was devastated. The older son was everything he’d wished for. He would take over his business. He was courageous and heroic, unlike little Timm who’s squeamish and dreamy.

Although soldiers weren’t allowed to write a diary, Karl-Heinz did and after he died of his wounds, it was sent back to his parents.

When he’s almost sixty and both of his parents and sister dead, Uwe Timm, rereads the diary and the brother’s letters and decides to write this memoir.

It is clear from the beginning that he doesn’t consider his brother to be a hero. He’s too shocked by some of the diary entries. They are cold and devoid of any compassion with the soldiers and civilians he kills. Karl-Heinz is a member of the SS Panzer Division Totenkopf (Skull and Crossbones). One of the SS’s notorious elite divisions. But what shocks Timm even more, and that’s because it’s also part of the post-war mindset, are the omissions. He knows his brother was present when some of the most horrific extermination operations went on, but he doesn’t mention anything. And in the end, he even stops writing his diary because, as he writes, it doesn’t make sense to write about awful things.

Reading Timm’s account, you can feel that he was ashamed and horrified that he had a brother like this. And he’s ashamed and horrified because of the way people spoke right after the war. Many found it perfectly OK that Jews were killed and were only angry about losing the war. Many others said they “didn’t know” but it was clear they had only chosen not to know.

The silence and passivity of the masses disgusted Timm. He also found out that many soldiers were given a choice whether they wanted to be part of a firing squad or not. Hardly anyone said no. Interestingly though, saying no, had absolutely no consequences. They didn’t choose to fire people because they were scared but simply because they wanted to.

Timm also explores his father’s authoritarian education methods which were pretty typical for that time. Kids had to obey and if they didn’t  they were slapped, hit or worse. Psychologists have found out a long time ago that this “black pedagogy” as it is called was one of the reasons why Hitler and Nazism were so successful.

While the book is harsh on his family and many other Germans, it still captures the suffering. His family, like so many others, lost everything when Hamburg was destroyed in ’43. For many years they lived in a cellar.

In My Brothers’ Shadow is also amazing as a book about writing a memoir. What it means to dig deeper and find family secrets. It’s not surprising, he was only able to write about everything so honestly, after his parents and sister were dead.

Uwe Timm is a wonderful, stylish writer that’s why this memoir has many poetic elements. It is a fascinating and touching story of a German family.

One thing that Timm’s elegant and poignant memoir illustrates admirably well – silence is political. Looking the other way is not innocence it’s complicity. This should be self-evident, unfortunately, it wasn’t then and it’s still not now. I’m glad I finally read this memoir. Especially just after Kempowski’s novel. They are great companion pieces.

The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Silber

The Art of Time in Fiction

It’s rare that I read a nonfiction book with as much enthusiasm as Joan Silber’s The Art of Time in Fiction.  Given the topic it’s not surprising though. I’ve long suspected that one of the key elements dividing literary fiction and genre fiction might be the use of time. I’m thinking of the artless use of the split-narrative that we find in almost every crime novel these days. Or the time-split in historical genre novels. Silber’s title is well-chosen, because using time masterfully is really an art.

She divided her book into different chapters, each dedicated to another use of time, another technique. I noticed, when compiling the list that when it’s done really well, we hardly notice what approach an author chose. I really appreciated the many examples she gave and from which she quotes extensively. Of course, this makes it a dangerous book for book addicts because it makes you want to add to your piles.

I will go through the categories, describing them briefly and adding the examples Joan Silber chose.

Classic Time

The first category was “classic time”. In this approach the author describes the story chronologically, chosing only a brief time span. There isn’t a lot of back story, nor flashbacks. I’d say it is the category that shows the most, tells the least.

The best example for classic time is:

  • Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby

 

Long Time

When an author tells a character’s whole life and the story spans over many years and decades, then we have an example of long time. I think it’s the category I’m the least fond of, but stories like Flaubert’s A Simple Heart, that capture a whole life, condensing long stretches, and only needs some forty pages, are not to be dismissed.

The examples quoted are:

  • Anton Chekhov – The Darling
  • Gustave Flaubert – A Simple Life/Un Coeur Simple
  • Jhumpa Lahiri – The Namesake
  • Carol Shields – The Stone Diaries
  • Arnold Bennett – The Old Wives’ Tale
  • Guy de Maupassant – Une Vie
  • Yu Hua – To Live
  • Evan Connell – Mrs Bridge
  • Virginia Woolf – To the Lighthouse

Switchback Time

The use of flashbacks, dreamlike sequences, non-linear storytelling, might be what appeals to me the most.

Here are a couple of examples for this type of storytelling:

  • Alice Munro – A Real Life, The Progress of Love, Carried Away, The Albanian Virgin
  • James Baldwin – Sonny’s Blues

 

Slowed Time

Proust’s In Search of Lost Time might be the most prominent of this category. In a movie there would be the use of slow motion. It’s an arresting technique that captures sensory and sensuous details like no other.

A few examples:

  • Nawal al-Sadaadawi – The Thirst
  • Don DeLillo – Videotape
  • Marcel Proust – In Search of Lost Time

 

Fabulous Time

This is the realm of magical realism and folk and fairy tales. It’s characterized by uncertainty and a reversal of natural time and disregarding the laws of time.

The examples used to illustrate this are:

  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude, Chronicle of a Death Foretold
  • Italo Calvino – Italian Folktales
  • Arundhati Roy – The God of Small Things

 

Time as Subject

One of the most interesting uses of time in fiction is when it’s made the subject of the story. I’ve never read Fitzgerald’s Winter Dreams, which seems to be similar to The Great Gatsby, but uses time differently. Since I’m planning on re-reading The Great Gatsby, I’m looking forward to comparing it to Winter Dreams.

Here are the examples given in the book:

  • F.Scott Fitzgerald – Winter Dreams
  • Katherine Anne Porter – Old Mortality
  • Henry James – The Beast in the Jungle
  • Leo Tolstoy – The Death of Ivan Ilych
  • Alan Lightman – Einstein’s Dream
  • Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Denis Johnson – Out on Bail
  • Martin Amis – Time’s Arrow
  • Charles Baxter – First Light
  • Jorge Luis Borges – The Secret Miracle
  • Ambrose Bierce – An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
  • Italo Calvino – Invisible Cities

I can’t say there’s one of these approaches I don’t like, but I guess books in which the time is a subject and what Silber calls “switchback time” might be those I like the most.

This is a wonderful little book that will appeal to readers and writers alike. It’s part of “The Art Of” series books published by Graywolf Press.

What about you? Do you prefer any of these categories? Or do you enjoy the use of split timelines/narratives more?

 

Literature and War Readalong August 29 2014: Undertones of War by Edmund Blunden

Undertones of War

Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War is one of the most famous WWI memoirs. Blunden was a poet who enlisted at the age of twenty and took part in the battles at the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele. My edition, which is The University of Chicago Press edition, contains a number of his poems. It will be interesting to compare the accounts of the trenches with the poems inspired by the landscape.

Here are the first sentences

I was not anxious to go. An uncertain but unceasing disquiet had been upon me, and when, returning to the officers’ mess a Shoreham Camp one Sunday evening, I read the notice that I was under orders for France, I did not hide my feelings. Berry, a subaltern of my set, who was also named for the draft, might pipe to me “Hi, Blunden, we’re going out: have a drink.”; I could not dance. There was something about France in those days which looked to me, despite all journalistic enchanters, to be dangerous.

And  some details and the blurb for those who want to join

Undertones of War by Edmund Blunden (UK 1928) WWI, Memoir, 288 pages

In what is one of the finest autobiographies to come out of the First World War, the distinguished poet Edmund Blunden records his experiences as an infantry subaltern in France and Flanders. Blunden took part in the disastrous battles of the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele, describing the latter as ‘murder, not only to the troops, but to their singing faiths and hopes’. In his compassionate yet unsentimental prose, he tells of the heroism and despair found among the officers. Blunden’s poems show how he found hope in the natural landscape; the only thing that survives the terrible betrayal enacted in the Flanders fields.

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The discussion starts on Friday, 29 August 2014.

Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2014, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.

Vivian Gornick: The End of the Novel of Love (1997) Essays on Literature

The End of the Novel of Love

In these essays Vivian Gornick examines a century of novels in which authors have portrayed women who challenge the desire to be swept away by passion. She concludes that love as a metaphor for the making of literature is no longer apt for today’s writers, such has the nature of love and romance and marriage changed. Taking the works of authors such as Willa Cather, Jean Rhys, Christina Stead, Grace Paley and Hannah Arendt, Gornick sets out to show how novels have increasingly questioned the inevitability of love and marriage as the path to self-knowledge and fulfilment.

Vivian Gornick is an essayist and memoirist. Her collection The End of the Novel of Love contains a wide range of essays on different authors and topics. The title is the title of one of the essays. Almost all the essays circle to some extent around the topic of love. Some of the essays are more biographical, others focus more on a theme and compare and analyse different authors and works.

There are biographical essays on Kate Chopin, Jean Rhys, Willa Cather, Christina Stead and Grace Paley. I liked the one on Willa Cather and Grace Paley best, as Gornick is less judgmental in them than in some of the others. In the essay on Paley she says that despite the fact that her range isn’t all that wide, that Paley often writes about the same things again and again, her stories are still excellent because in her stories the voice is the story. What is unique in her stories is that people don’t fall in love with each other but with the desire to be alive.

There have been three story collections in thirty-five years. They have made Paley famous. All over the world, in languages you never heard of, she is read as a master storyteller in the great tradition: people love life more because of her writing.

The book contains two essays on people who are not fiction writers: Hannah Arendt and Clover Adams. While I’m familiar with Arendt and her work, I didn’t know the tragic story of Clover Adams, the wife of Henry Adams, who took her own life in 1885. The suicide struck Henry Adams particularly hard as he thought of Clover and himself as two parts of a whole, while, very clearly, Clover had an inner life of her own and didn’t share most of her distress. Clover was, according to Gornick, extremely intelligent and witty, which fascinated Adams. He fell in love with her mind right away, but didn’t show much kindness when he wrote about her as being anything but handsome. And even his praise of her intelligence doesn’t really read as a praise because he feels obliged to add – implicitly and explicitly – that she’s witty and intelligent “for a woman”.

The most interesting essays in the collection are those on themes, in which Gornick analyses and compares several works.

In Diana of the Crossways Gornick compares George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, George Meredith’s Diana of the Crossways and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. Gornick tells us that while the three books written by women are brilliant, they aren’t a success, unlike Diana of the Crossways, which is a stunning novel, because it goes one step further.

Each of these three novels was written by a brilliant woman with the taste of iron in her mouth. Each of them gives us a sobering portrait of what it feels like to be a creature trapped, caught stopped in place. Yet no one of these novels penetrates any deeper than the others into the character’s desire to be free: all that is achieved here is the look and feel of resistance. (…)

George Meredith, in his late fifties, had the experience and the distance. Meredith knew better than Woolf, Eliot, and Wharton what a woman and a man equally matched in brains, will, and hungriness of spirit might actually say and do, both to themselves and to one another. (…)

Diana Warwick is one of the first women in an English novel both beautiful and intellectually gifted who needn’t be dismissed as vain, shrewd, and ambitious before we can get on with it.

Ruthless Intimacies analyses the relationship between mother and son in D.H.Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, and the relationship between mothers and daughters in Radclyffe Hall’s The Unlit Lamp, May Sinclair’s Mary Oliver, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Edna O’Brien’s short story A Rose in the Heart of New York. The relationships in these novels are symbiotic and swallow up the daughters completely. They struggle their whole lives to free themselves. I can relate to that all too well and would really love to read The Unlit Lamp and Edna O’Brien’s short story. Both sound pertinent and excellent.

Tenderhearted Men focusses on author’s who write in the vein of Hemingway about men and women. Raymond Carver, Richard Ford and André Dubus. Gornick dismisses them as too sentimental. They cling to a dated idea of men being saved by women, without trying to understand them.

The End of the Novel of Love is interesting. It states the obvious but the obvious was still worth stating. Most of the tragic (love) stories of the past like Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, but also books like The House of Mirth are unthinkable in our day and age. Marriage and society have changed so much. Adultery doesn’t have the social consequences it had. I thought this part of the essay interesting, but I didn’t like that she chose to illustrate her concept in picking apart Jane Smiley’s novella The Age of Grief and calling it not only unmoving, but a failure. Harsh words. Maybe it’s true. I haven’t read it but I don’t like this type of unkind criticism.

Gornick’s writing is very accessible, a lot of her insights are fascinating and made me think, but, as I mentioned before, she’s very judgmental, which made me cringe occasionally. It made Gornick come across as very unkind. See for example this passage taken from the essay on Kate Chopin.

One of her biographers makes  the point that Chopin never revised, Chopin herself, announced, in interview after interview throughout her professional life, that the writing either came all at once, or not at all. I think it the single most important piece of writing we have about her. She seems to have considered this startling practice a proof of giftedness, rather than of the amateurishness that it really was.

Although I didn’t care for some of her harsh judgments, I thought many of her observations were pertinent and fascinating and I’d certainly read another of her books. I’m interested in her memoir Fierce Attachments and her book on creative non-fiction The Situation and the Story: the Art of Personal Narrative.

If you’re interested here’s the first chapter on Diana of the Crossways.

Rebecca Park Totilo: Organic Beauty With Essential Oil

Organic Beauty

I’ve always been interested in essential oils and also used them quite frequently in the past, still I would never have thought I’d enjoy reading this wonderful book so much. Rebecca put knowledge, passion and enthusiasm into this book, and wrote it in an accessible and engaging way. It’s a real pleasure to read.

The book opens with a detailed introduction to making your own beauty products with essential oils. It gives tips and advice on which are the best carrier oils, what oils are best for the skin, which will help set a specific mood and so on. You will also find instructions on how to store your oils, how to dilute and blend them. Rebecca also enumerates all the different products that you can do with the help of this book. At the end of the introduction you find a detailed description of  far over 70 essential oils, from Angelica to Ylang Ylang. Each section describes what the oil is for, how to use it and whether you have to be careful with it.

After the description comes the “recipe section”, which contains the following chapters: Bath Oils, Bath Bombs, Bath Salts, Bubble Baths, Bath Soaps, Milk Baths, Body Scrubs, Body Powders, Body Sprays, Body Lotions, Facial Scrubs, Facial Masks, Facial Creams, Facial Toners, Shampoos and Shower Gels, Toothpaste, Lip Balms and Glosses, Cuticle Oils, Hand Creams, Products for the Feet.

As you can see, the book is very rich.

I picked two recipes for you, to give you and idea

Energizing Bath Salt

WHAT YOU WILL NEED

2 cups Epsom Salt

1 cup Sea Salt

10 drops Natural Green Food Coloring

5 drops Natural Blue Food Coloring

6 drops Eucalyptus essential oil

10 drops Rosemary essential oil

15 drops Peppermint essential oil

WHAT TO DO

  1. In a large bowl, add salts and food coloring
  2. Add the essential oils, one drop at a time and mix well. Let it sit overnight.
  3. For the bath: Add 4 heaping tablespoons of bath salts to the running water for one full tub.

Sweet ‘N Sour Nail Growth Oil

WHAT YOU WILL NEED

20 drops Lavender essential oil

10 drops Lemon essential oil

2 tablespoons Sweet Almond Oil

Small dark glass bottle

WHAT TO DO

  1. In a bottle, add the almond oil and the essential oils.
  2. Tighten the cap and shake the bottle vigorously for one minute to blend.
  3. To use, massage the nail bed once a day to encourage healthy growth.

I hope this gave you a good impression. I think Rebecca did a great job. It’s an inspiring and colorful book with tons of recipes, ideas and tips. It’s great for people who are fed up with toxic beauty products, for everyone who likes to experiment and try out new things, but also for those who are simply interested to learn more about essential oils.

Here is Rebbecca’s page.

And some more information on the author:

“Rebecca Park Totilo’s flair and passion for life bursts into living color when she writes and speaks, as you will see in the visual way she presents herself.  She literally believes in the “show, don’t tell” principle in everything she does.  Becca has ministered to literally millions of people via television, radio and live appearances. She is an award-winning published author of over 40 books, including “Therapeutic Blending With Essential Oil”, “Heal With Essential Oil”, and “Through the Night With God.” Her credits include working as a contributor writer on two best-selling series (“Quiet Moments with God” and “Stories for the Teen’s Heart”) which sold over one million and five million copies respectively.  She is also a freelance writer for several national magazines include Christian Parenting Today, Discipleship Journal and Woman’s World.

Rebecca’s photography work has appeared in numerous national magazines such as Woman’s World, Sports Spectrum, Evangel, and Sharing the Victory.  But by far, her greatest accomplishment, if you asked her, is after a decade of rejection slips (with almost 150 in one year!), Rebecca hit it big in 1999, with over 13 books contracts, ranging from teaching curriculum to gift books and devotionals for adults.  Truly, its her grit determination that makes her inspirational writings draw such a mass market appeal.

Rebecca graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1986 with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Information Systems. In addition, she attended Faith Bible Institute in Richmond, Virginia for instruction in ministry and University of the Nations in Hawaii. She is also trained as a Clinical Aromatherapist and is an international educator offering online courses on the art of perfume-making and how to blend with essential oils worldwide on her website http://rebeccatotilo.com. Rebecca owns a cute soap boutique, Aroma Hut, near the beach in Florida where she practices as an Clinical Aromatherapist.

Rebecca won the Writer of the Year in Non-Fiction (National Writer’s Association)

Rebecca Park Totilo

Thanks to Virtual Author Book Tours for letting me participate in this tour. I enjoyed it a great deal. If you’d like to enter for a giveaway, don’t miss the other tour dates, which you will find here.

vabt-highresolution

Jeanette Winterson: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011)

Why Be Happy

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 book is that story’s the silent twinIt 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.

Jeanette Winterson’s first novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is largely inspired by her childhood. Her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? tells the other side of the story. That what was left out. It took me a long time to read this memoir. I started it four times, not because it’s not good, but because reading it was painful. The first part, until Jeanette leaves home at 16 and her mother asks her the question that has become the title of the book, is painful and disturbing for many reasons. The wit and the humor she uses to describe her awful childhood made me shudder. Shudder because I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand how you could live through so much pain and not go crazy, to write a book at 21 and become famous and leave it all behind. I was glad she proved to be so resilient, but it made me uneasy. I kept on thinking: When is it going to happen? When will she break down? Is that still in the future? I don’t think that you can survive a childhood like Winterson’s and not break down eventually. It’s just a matter of time.The second part of the book deals with what came much later. Jeanette Winterson’s descent into madness (her terms), her breakdown and attempted suicide in 2008. Reading that felt like entering a freshly aired room. I know this may sound weird, but the beginning made me choke. I couldn’t believe that she’d left it all behind and only when I read about the descent into madness, did I finally feel glad for her. Now she can move on.

Jeanette Winterson was adopted by the Wintersons when she was 6 months old. She was never told who her real parents were and her mother always said that the devil led them to the wrong crib, meaning she would have liked another child, a nicer child. This is such a typical statement from a woman like Mrs Winterson who is a depressed zealot and always utters half-truths in bible-inspired metaphor. Jeanette Winterson says that all of her books start with individual meaningful sentences and we see where that comes from. Her mother often only says one dark ominous sentence over and over again. Sometimes without any apparent connection to what just happens or what was just said. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls . . .”, “It’s a fault to heaven, a fault against the dead and a fault to nature . . . ” Uttered without any context or referring to very mundane things like the gas oven blowing up, these sentences are either creepy or hilarious.

Winterson grew up in the North of England, near Manchester and she loves this part of the country, lovingly tells us about its history, which is quite interesting. The Wintersons are not only religious fanatics but working class and her mother is so suspicious of books that she confiscates and burns all of those Jeanette has been hiding.

Punishment is frequent and comes in different forms. Either Jeanette is beaten or left outside all night and day, on the door step, even in winter.

When she falls in love with a girl, and Mrs W finds out, they perform an exorcism. Jeannette finally leaves at 16. She only returns once, when she’s studying in Oxford and things go very wrong. That’s the last time she sees her mother.

As you may have guessed, this isn’t an easy book to write about. I marked so many passages and sentences that hardly any page is left white. Jeanette Winterson has a way with words that is amazing. Although I don’t always agree, I find the sentences, many of which are used in her novels, arresting.

In her novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson paints her mother like a giantess and in her memoir she says she was too large for her circumstances. I was puzzled that there was no explanation whatsoever why Mrs W was the way she was. Mean, fanatic, abusive, depressed and just plain crazy. She had her dreams and her wishes, but smothered them. She lived as if she was wearing a very tight corset. The Wintersons were Pentecostals and the religion was like a mental corset.

If you like memoir, then you should read this. It’s disturbing, but it’s so amazingly well written and the first part has hilarious moments. Mrs Winterson is crazy, but she really is larger than life. She reminded me of some of Picasso’s paintings of grotesquely deformed women. We read about her with horror, but at the same time we almost wishes we had been there. I even felt compassion, there were small details that could almost make her endearing. At the end of the book, when Jeanette Winterson has found her birth mother and looks back on her childhood, she says she’s glad Mrs Winterson was her mother. Although she was crazy and abusive, she made her who she is, maybe without such an adoptive mother, there wouldn’t be a writer like Jeanette Winterson. I can understand that thinking very well.