Monday 25 July 2011

Revisiting Books... Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

I first read Oranges are not the Only Fruit in my first year of University, and then apparently wiped it from my mind completely. This is part of the problem with having books prescribed to you rather than reading them from your own free will, but then again, would I have read Oranges are not the Only Fruit without it being on the reading list? I don't know. It apparently made enough of an impression on me to make me buy three (yep, three!) more Winterson books, so I guess I just assumed that it was good.

And it really is. I think that both times I've read it, I've expected there to be a lot more about the main character, Jeanette's (according to Wikipedia, it's a semi-autobiographical novel, which feels about right when you're reading it) sexuality, when actually, it's a lot more focused around religion, and the way that it works- that as long as you're doing what everyone requires of you, it doesn't matter how you feel because it's not right 'in the eyes of the Lord'. Thus, Jeanette's love for another girl is something that doesn't consider a problem, because it involves love, which is only a good thing in her eyes, whereas to the entire church that is basically her entire support system, it is one of the worst things that she can do. The fact that Jeanette considers this to be untrue is what causes her break with God telling her what to do, and her perusal of a path that allows her to do what she personally feels is right.

Perhaps more important than Jeanette's sexuality in this book is her relationship with her mother. Fanatically religious, Jeanette is informed more than once in the course of the novel that her mother is nuts, something that she can't see until her mother turns against her, because up to that point, they are basically on the same page (that page being full of crazy and religious indoctrination). This is something that in the context of the novel is understandable- Jeanette has no reason to doubt her mother's word, or the word of the church and the admittedly adorable women who frequent it. The scoldings of her teacher she takes as the words of a heathen (and therefore a relatively unimportant person, and certainly not one to be listened to) and she essentially has no reason to dislike or disobey the system she knows, purely because she is inside it, and she is comfortable there. It is only upon being outside it that she can see its faults and ultimately those belonging to her mother as well. This is something that allows her to break free and actually think for herself for the first time in her life, and also to gain some perspective on her mother's actions.

If I haven't convinced you to pick up this book yet, let me tell you that it's pretty wonderful. It's funny, and yet sad; heartbreaking but with such a sense of hope about it- let's not forget that this girl is a mere teenager, and has her entire life, free of the tyranny of religion ahead of her. What happens to her seems pretty catastrophic, but so does everything to teenagers- the important thing to think about it is that she will move on, and she will learn to live again. I think this book would possibly speak more to English readers, because everything about the settings and the characters felt very English to me, but please, American readers, feel free to prove me wrong! I'm pretty sure that everyone should read this book, and since there are only 170 pages to it, what excuse do you have not to?!


  1. This book sound awesome. I've never heard of it but the authors name sounds really familiar.

  2. You do a great job of selling the good, interesting parts about this novel. The themes have always appealed to me, in all of Winterson's books really. Unfortunately, I don't really enjoy her writing style...I'm not sure what it is, "boring" is too harsh, perhaps it's just not fast-paced enough for me.

  3. @Natazzz- I know what you mean about her writing style, and I am in fact reading Sexing the Cherry at the moment which I'm finding really hard to get into. It might just be that this was a re-read for me, so having been used to the writing already, I looked deeper into it than the surface writing style. Also, I had to read this for an English unit, and it was a hell of a lot shorter than a lot of the books, which might have been another reason I liked it... hehe