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Why Is the Measure of Love Loss?

Posted on Mar 29, 2012

(Page 2)

The second half of the book is less linear than the first; the prose is more fragmented and urgent. This may be a reflective function of the subject matter—that of mental breakdown. It is powerful and visceral and the reader genuinely fears for the author. Winterson discovers, with the help of analysis, what she calls a “savage lunatic” living inside her. 

“This is the most dangerous work you can do. It is like bomb disposal but you are the bomb. That’s the problem—the awful thing is you. It may be split off and living malevolently at the bottom of the garden, but it is sharing your blood and eating your food. Mess this up, and you will go down with the creature.”

The passages in which she argues with “the creature” during her afternoon walks are very fine indeed.

At the end of the book, Winterson is in a good relationship with Susie Orbach, the psychoanalyst, and with her help finds, at last, her birth mother. One hopes for a happy ending here, but of course life is messy and complicated. The meeting may have helped heal Winterson in some ways, but it is no cure-all. Finally, however, the reader gets the impression that even though Winterson may never be utterly free of the demons, she will be able to live in relative comfort with them.

book cover


Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?


By Jeanette Winterson


Grove Press, 230 pages


Buy the book

It is astonishing not only that Winterson can face her life with such clarity, but that she can turn the events of her life into something much broader than most memoirs. However, Winterson has always mixed whatever story she’s telling with myths and fables so they become much larger than what is on the page. 

“Personal stories work for other people when those stories become both paradigms and parables. The intensity of a story—say the story in “Oranges”—releases into a bigger space than the one it occupied in time and place. The story crosses the threshold from my world into yours. We meet each other on the steps of the story.” 

It should come as no surprise that she’s done the same with this book. Interspersed are delightful mini-essays on gender politics, socialism, education, politics, Margaret Thatcher and, of course, literature. Winterson’s salvation came from books and she wants to share them with the reader.

“I believe in fiction and the power of stories because that way we speak in tongues. We are not silenced. All of us, when in deep trauma, find we hesitate, we stammer; there are long pauses in our speech. The thing is stuck. We get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words.”

The memoir is peppered with digressions about various books and it’s quite inspiring, for above all else this is a writer’s memoir; bravely written, it explores brokenness and strength, abandonment, abuse and learning (hopefully) to love and be loved. Most of all, it shows how her life contributed to Winterson becoming the sort of writer she is. And thank God for that.

Lauren B. Davis is the author of five books, most recently, “Our Daily Bread.” Like Jeanette Winterson, she was adopted as a baby by a mentally ill woman, was never allowed a key to the house, left home at 16 and eventually met her birth mother, with similar results.


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By Salome, April 2, 2012 at 5:44 am Link to this comment
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How has this endless pursuit of “love” hurt us?  Let me count the ways.
From syrupy songs, to mindless movies, to tit(tering) tv, commercial interests ceaselessly drive us to buy the clothes, the cologne, the car, etc. that will finally capture the ultimate prize “love”.
How about peace?  Let’s pursue peace for a change.

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By Anarcissie, April 1, 2012 at 7:11 pm Link to this comment

Of course one might use an odd construction precisely in order to snag the readers, to make them read twice, because of the importance of the sentence.

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By tentaculata, March 31, 2012 at 9:20 am Link to this comment

“Why is the measure of love loss?” is the first line of Winterson’s novel, “Written on
the Body.”  She also uses it quite early in her autobiography in talking about her
relationship with her mother.

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By gerard, March 30, 2012 at 8:56 pm Link to this comment

Anarchissie:  I had similar language problems with this title—the idea of loss as the measure of love.  What finally settled me was the idea that everyone has a capacity for loving and being loved, and when that capacity is unfilled, the loss is profound and lasting and can only be “satisfied” by loving and being loved.
  Which raises some questions:  Why do so many Americans over-eat and overindulge?  Why are those monstsrous “cooking TV programs with the squoozey foot-high hamburghers so popular?  And the mile-higih cakes?  Why is America’s tendency to over-indulge in just about everything we do so conspicuous and out of control?  And why is this emptiness so unrecognized?
  And are we going to “render up” our entire country to the greed of Wall Street guzzlers and the obscene excesses of political exploitation?
  Are we the people who have everything and yet have nothing? Is it some kind of “love” that is missing from our lives—an emotional/spiritual emptiness that is making us suicidal?

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By Anarcissie, March 30, 2012 at 8:30 pm Link to this comment

By the way, it took me a couple of scans to parse the headline (‘Why Is the Measure of Love Loss?’)  which now seems to mean ‘Why is loss the measure of love?’  I kept putting ‘love loss’ together as ‘love-loss’ but then the foregoing sentence is ungrammatical.  Linguistics bloggers call these constructions ‘crash blossoms’, I believe.

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By John Poole, March 30, 2012 at 5:13 pm Link to this comment
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Yikes:  Many of us have had convoluted and unhealthy upbringings and somehow
managed to abide in some fitful manner.  We try to make sense of our
unhappiness and move on vowing to not pass on the hurt and mistreatment.

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By Anarcissie, March 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm Link to this comment

And thank the cat.

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