Thursday, October 17, 2013

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette was adopted by a set of very religious pentecostal parents who lived in North England.  Her mother adopted her so she could grow up to become a missionary and donate her life to God.  Jeanette was only allowed to read one book, she could recite Bible verses and sing many songs unto the Lord.  They went to church everyday and Jeanette grew up loving the Lord and evangelizing.

Jeanette's mother was abusive, locking her out of the house and beating her for her own good.  She frequently said that God lead her to the wrong crib.  As Jeanette grows up alienated in school because of her religious fervor, she begins to realize that she is different.  Her religion sets her apart but more than that, Jeanette realizes she was attracted to the same sex.

This semi-autobiographical, coming of age, novel was written in 1985, when the author was 24 years old.  Winterson writes that the true story is too painful to recount and much worse than this fictional retelling.  Each chapter is named after a book of the Bible, starting with Genesis and ending with Ruth.  Oranges is an amazing book and an incredibly fast read.  I took it on vacation with me and I read it in two days.

I was drawn in by Jeanette's story and her Biblical mother.  Her mother and her religious fervor reminded me a lot of my strict Baptist grandmother.  My grandmother was so religious that she refused to attend her own sons wedding because he married a Catholic girl.  My grandmother never hit me but I was afraid of her for a long time and felt like the outsider in the family.  In many ways my experience mirrored Jeanette's.

The characters in Oranges are well-developed and Jeanette is the unorthodox heroine of her own story. Parts of the novel are quirky and some parts are awful and I admit I was intrigued when poor Jeanette was being exorcised of the devil.  I found myself hoping the main character would find compassion and love from someone in the church.  This book left an indelible mark on my soul and I don't think I will ever forget it.

“Everyone who tells a story tells it differently, just to remind us that everybody sees it differently. Some people say there are true things to be found, some people say all kinds of things can be proved. I don't believe them. The only thing for certain is how complicated it all is, like string full of knots. It's all there but hard to find the beginning and impossible to fathom the end. The best you can do is admire the cat's cradle, and maybe knot it up a bit more.”

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit won the Whitbread Prize for first fiction and was made into a film by the BBC in 1990.