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Book Review: Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

4th May, 2016

Oranges are not the only fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette, the protagonist of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and the author’s namesake, pens down her life as an adopted child raised in Northern England and brought up on Bible Scriptures. Her mother thinks she is the Chosen one from God; Jeanette is beginning to fancy girls; and  she tries to define her relationship with her mother, God and self.

Review:

Oranges are not the only fruit is the story of a girl named Jeanette, growing up in Northern England as part of a small evangelical Christian church in which her mother is one of the most important local figures. She is fed on Bible scriptures and informed that schools are ‘Breeding grounds’ and neighbours and friends are ‘devils’. Due to pressure from the local welfare committee Jeanette is forced to join school, and she begins reading books, thus opening her eyes to a world beyond her mother’s teachings. She still loves God, but at fifteen she feels attracted to another woman resulting in a heavily disturbed heart of what is right and wrong.

“I have a theory that every time you make an important choice, the part of you left behind continues the other life you could have had.”

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit is an autobiographical story with a number of themes. It can be categorised as a coming-of-age novel, the story of a girl who seems ‘different’ to many of her peers – both in terms of her religious upbringing and to some extent her sexuality. Though often called as ‘lesbian fiction’ (a description which the author herself condemns), the romantic interest is only a faint thread in the story. The novel is about Jeanette’s relationship with God, her beliefs and her difficulties to live up to the expectations of her mother whom she loves a lot.

Oranges are not the only fruit by Jeanette Winterson

The novel is structured into sections, with the titles of the first eight books of the Bible, from Genesis to Ruth, each section talking about the different phases of Jeanette’s life, from the age of seven. Brought up in a Biblical environment, Jeanette tries to explain herself through the Scriptures and question certain orthodox beliefs. It also shows how her approach to the Bible changes from an object of fear to an object of companionship when alone. What makes the story telling even more compelling is the inclusion of legends of King Arthur and the like in the Bible inspired passages.

The novel  is well written, absorbing and has moments of humor. I picked up this book unaware of the theme and without reading the blurb, so as the story unfolded, I was expecting a bitter, angry work of writing. I also thought it would be another story that denounces religion and God. I was surprised neither is the case here. It is only a truthful portrayal a heroine who turns out to be different from others around her and how she fights her own demons.

Oranges are not the only fruit by Jeanette Winterson

To Jeanette’s mother Jeanette is unnatural, a Godless creature with passions against God. Jeanette however comes to accept her nature, to be happy with what she is. Such difference in perspectives strain their relationship, however the importance and closeness of family even when principles clash is beautifully portrayed in the novel.  This was a portion which I thought could have been elaborated a little more since it is yet another important theme in the novel.

I think this is a well written book. It is the story of  an adopted child of a Scripture obsessed mother and the changes in the relationship, when Jeanette discovers that she is a lesbian. There is a harmonious blend of religion, human bonds and principles. This is a short book and an easy read and I enjoyed the experience of reading it. The author exclaims that ‘fact’ and ‘story’ cannot be separated as easily as she thought, so how much of the book is inspired by her own life is up to the reader’s speculation.

Title : Oranges are Not the Only Fruit
Author : Jeanette Winterson
Publisher : Vintage
Published : 1991 (Originally 1985)
Language : English
Pages :  171
Rating : 4/5

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Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

About the Author

Jeanette Winterson is an award-winning English writer some of whose novels have explored gender polarities and sexual identity.  Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, her first novel, semi autobographical in nature, won the 1985 Whitbread Prize for a First Novel, and was adapted for television by Winterson in 1990.

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This Post Has 22 Comments
  1. One of my favourite novels by one of my favourite authors! You captured it really well 🙂 You might be interested in her biography too ‘Why be Happy When You Could Be Normal?’, it’s interesting to see the story told in another way.

    1. I had heard of the book, but did not know it was her biography. Thanks for the recommendation. I think Winterson is a great writer who talks complex issues in very simple prose.

    1. Really? I should check that up. I did get the impression that she is too engrossed in the Scriptures that she has categorised everything in the world into extreme pockets. Especially denying a child education because she thinks that schools are Breeding grounds!

  2. I love the worn-out look of the book. It gives it so much charm! That cover is great as well.

    It was very brave of you to pick up and read a book without knowing what it was about. I haven’t done that in years! I sounds interesting, and it’s refreshing to see that it deviates from the standard condemnation of God and religion that other books of its kind do.

    1. Thank you. It is a really old book. This book was one which surprised me since I knew nothing about it. The title was very intriguing and so was the cover. If you havent read it already, I do recommend this one. 🙂

  3. I normally steer clear of books that tackle a religion, but I have to admit your review has peaked my interest! Winterson does have a skill for coming up with titles that make you want to find out more.

    1. I hope you would give it a try. Because its a book that anyone would be comfortable reading. It does not force any religious views. Rather its about the heroine being at peace with what she is taught and how her nature and self are against that.

  4. Ohhh this sounds really intriguing. (And I adore your photos! AS ALWAYS.) And it’s nice that it didn’t slam religion! I often skip religious books because I either feel like it’s being shoved down my throat, or the book is just condemning all things religious. Neither of which I like. Eek. But this one seems nicely balanced!

    1. True Cait. It is such a relief when the book is not pouring down such things down your throat. And thank you! 🙂 I adore your pictures as well as the super blog posts you come up with

  5. I read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit just after I turned eighteen and it’s stayed with me ever since. Winterson is such a gifted storyteller. Her books are very sensitively crafted, intimate and honest.

  6. I’ve heard of the author but not of this specific book before. I’m not religious myself so I love to hear stories about how people’s faith and relationship with God changes as they learn more about the worth. I think people may expect atheist readers to look for books where people denounce religion, but I honestly love to hear how people change their interpretations and embrace their own understanding of God. Adding to my TBR!

    1. This is a good one in that case. Jeanette not once does she denounce God. But her approach towards him changes and also the approach towards her own life after the realisation that she is a lesbian. Hope you enjoy the read when you read it.

  7. Yes, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is semi-autobiographical. Things turn out much better for Jeanette than they do for Wintnerson in her read life, which she discusses in the memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? The memoir gives you a sense of deja vu if you’ve read Oranges, but you can see where things get worse and darker for Winterson.

    1. Oh! I did not know they would be more difficult for Jeanette in her real life. Thanks for the recommendation. I must pick it up to gain a better understanding of her life.

  8. I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s been a long time since I read it. I agree that I was impressed with Winterson’s ability to talk about religion from an LGBT perspective without demonizing it, especially with her upbringing. I’m looking forward to re-reading it and her follow up more recently published.

  9. I’ve often heard of this book but it wasn’t until I listened to Winterson on a BBC World Books podcast session with her that I placed it on my TBR. I hope to read it soon.

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