The title of acclaimed novelist Jeanette Winterson’s book makes it sound like it might be a parody of the self-help genre, but it is actually a painful, evocative memoir about her life with her deeply religious adoptive parents, and about her later life.

At the age of 16, when Winterson fell in love with another girl and had to leave her parents’ house in order to be with her, she told them that her girlfriend made her happy. “Why be happy when you could be normal?” was her mother’s response.

Written in Winterson’s terse, taut style, the book jumps from an account of her tremendously difficult childhood, during she was beaten, made to go hungry, shamed, and had exorcisms performed on her, to 25 years later, just after her breakup with her longtime partner, theatre director Deborah Warner.

Around the same time, she found her adoption papers – and, after surviving the gruelling heartbreak of her separation, and tentatively beginning a new relationship, began to search for her birth mother.

Winterson’s voice prevents the book from being straightforwardly categorised as another misery memoir – she demonstrates the same humour that infuses her semi-autobiographical debut novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, and includes colourful descriptions of the books and writers that she encountered along the way.

“This book – which had been funny enough to make me laugh out loud more times than is advisable on the No. 12 bus – turns into something raw and unnerving,” says an Observer review.

Published in 2012.