‘Why be happy when you could be normal?’ These are the words Jeanette Winterson’s adoptive mother said to her when she left home at the age of sixteen after falling in love with another woman. Her memoirs mostly recount her childhood growing up in working-class Accrington living with her adoptive Pentecostal parents and her later search for her birth parents. I used to think that no autobiography could be more bleak than Frank McCourt’s account of growing up in poverty in ‘Angela’s Ashes’ but Winterson’s description of her fearsome adoptive mother was particularly harrowing. To say her childhood was appalling is probably an understatement and yet she poignantly reflects on love and life without succumbing to self-indulgence. Her search for her birth mother is very moving and you will feel her frustration at the bureaucracy process coming off the page. Continue reading
Having read all of her other books, I finally got round to reading Sarah Waters’ début novel ‘Tipping the Velvet’ this week. This picaresque coming-of-age tale set in the 1890s sees Nancy Astley, an oyster-girl from Whitstable run off to London with music hall performer Kitty Butler who later becomes her lover and co-star on the stage. When her career comes to an abrupt end, Nancy journeys through London exploring her sexuality and experiencing plenty of love, lust and heartbreak along the way.
Although much of what has been written about ‘Tipping the Velvet’ focuses on the presence of lesbian characters, the fact that Sarah Waters is a master of good old-fashioned storytelling must not be overlooked. She knows how to weave an intriguing plot with believable characters. As with all of her other books, the level of historical detail is impressive and blends into the story effortlessly without being either overwhelming or irrelevant – and that even goes for the detailed descriptions of Victorian sex toys. Continue reading