Jeanette Winterson’s story of her childhood and it’s impact on her adult relationships is an absorbing read. She was adopted by Pentecostal parents only to be energetically neglected and enthusiastically admonished for her short comings, by the overbearing Mrs Winterson, whose query gives the book its title.
Jeanette tells heart wrenching tales of the lack of love and acceptance she experienced, yet I never felt
that she was asking for sympathy, or inhabiting the role of victim. She talks about therapy, and it is clear to me that she has had a positive experience of this, (aside from her current relationship with Susie Orbach) and it is possible to pick up many familiar themes.
She describes the unbearable pain of being given away, “The baby knows it has been abandoned – I am sure of that”; the strain of bearing her mother’s narcissism “She hated being a nobody, and like all children, adopted or not, I have had to live out some of her unlived life.”; and the power of the corrective emotional experience “I know now that we heal up through being loved, and loving others”. These thoughts are all explored and articulated.
What I loved most about this book however, was the power of words. She refused to be silenced, or to let her parents live in silence “I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence”. At the same time she hungered for the written word, for stories to make sense of her experiences, and as an adult, at her lowest, her words deserted her “I was in the place before I had any language. The abandoned place”. How many of our clients experience pain so deep it is pre-verbal? And how many, in the process of healing, re-write their own life narrative?
Despite the cruelty and heart ache I read this as a hopeful book, and would recommend it to clients, therapists or anyone interests in the impact of childhood on adulthood.