Jeanette is brought up by her mother as one of God’s elect. Jeanette loves her mother and her God, even if she never quite seems to fit in with children her age because her habits are considered strange. Nevertheless, she seems content. That is, until Jeanette falls in love with a girl..
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is one of those books that I had been meaning to read forever. So when I came across it in a charity shop while on holiday in Devon this summer, I couldn’t not pick it up, right? Now that I have finally read it, I am glad I did. Even if I did not all-out love it.
Jeanette Winterson’s writing is quite captivating. I was pulled into the book almost immediately. Moreover, after taking some time to get used to it I found the switch-over between Jeanette’s story and the intermixing of elements of other stories, such as a legend about King Arthur and the Holy Grail, to be beautifully done. Moreover, there are some piercing observations on classicism in the UK and there is a strangely funny sense of humour throughout the book – strange because you know these are real and painful situations being described.
In evoking the highly religious setting Winterson manages to do two things at once. On the one hand, the setting will be somewhat strange to most people who have not been raised as strictly religious as Jeanette is. Her descriptions of it somehow border the strange-funny-creepy divide in an interesting manner. At the same time, in having Jeanette take her own situation for granted as she does, in a way that is difficult to imagine as an outsider but probably very true to experience from the inside, she also makes Jeanette’s world seem immediately familiar. I found this strange-yet-familiar divide that both draws the reader in and makes Jeanette’s world somewhat distant very intriguing.
There is one thing that left me puzzled though, and I am not quite sure how to articulate it as it seems unfair to raise the subject? Winterson’s story radiates anger, in a very raw manner. Anger, that I think is justified given the subject manner – even more so when you know that Winterson herself probably lived through most of this herself. It feels unfair to feel even a glimmer of disappointment in this anger, this anger almost bordering on revenge – because it is a story of unfairness, of deep frustrations and social repression. And yet.. I felt the story was somehow held captive by it? Like there might have been more that did not have a chance to be captured somehow?
In some ways, the end builds and hints towards a transcending of at least the anger towards Jeanette’s mother, but to me, it still felt as if we were held in the middle of it. Probably this reflects the reality of the situation for Jeanette’s character, the impossibility to let go. And possibly this is exactly what gives the story its immediacy that has you reading without a thought to anything else. But I couldn’t help and put the book down feeling a little drained, as if I had left some of what drew me in in the beginning behind, as if there was and still is something gnawing at me that I cannot quite articulate but won’t let me go. This *something* that has me unable to really love this book, while at the same time, it might be the very thing that makes this such a courageous and intriguing book? Help! Sometimes I wonder why I am even trying to articulate my thoughts on novels
I read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit for my The Classics Club reading list. And despite my vague inability to love love love the book, I am very happy to have read it since I did think it a convincing novel. It is with joy that I mark this as the first book read on the list.