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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
It is hard to decide if `Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit' is a memoir or a piece of fiction, not that the label should matter as it's a corking read, so I think the best way is to say it's a mixture of the two. We are told the story of Jeanette as a young girl growing up under the fierce some and ever watchful eye of `Mrs Winterson' her highly religious mother who has already decided that her adoptive daughter will become a missionary. However the problem with that is two fold. Firstly her daughter, whilst having respect for the church, has a mind of her own and rather strong wills. Secondly, which we discover as we read on, her daughter is one who suffers from the `Unnatural Passions' and falls in love with someone of the same sex.

Being Jeanette Winterson's debut novel it would be easy to simply label this work as `writing what you know' and yet it is so much more than that. The character of Mrs Winterson whilst being a retelling of her mother has a slight fairytale like `wicked stepmother' to it. In fact as the book goes on Winterson inserts small tales starting `once upon a time...' as we go on giving the whole book a slightly magical feel. Her domineering yet quiet tyranny over Jeanette's childhood could have lead Jeanette to become a down trodden doormat. Instead a small fire sparks somewhere and we see a young girl both caught in conflict between religion and sexuality and also pushed on by it.

I wasn't expecting to laugh as much as I did through the novel. This is no misery memoir, though of course its labelled fiction, and whilst in parts it is harrowing (I admit I was petrified of Mrs Winterson often, especially when she did things quietly) there is a lot of joy and hope in the novel. I found the fact Mrs Winterson changed the ending of `Jane Eyre' for her own benefit very amusing and also sad at once as if she could do that there clearly was more to her than met the eye and maybe she just didn't know how to show it.

`Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit' is not only a tale of `coming of age', religion and sexuality. It's a tale of the England and its prejudices and thoughts in the late sixties and early seventies. It wasn't always as swinging as people might believe. It's a book I am very pleased I finally took the time to read, and one that I would definitely urge others to read, if you haven't already of course.
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92 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on 19 October 2003
'One of my earliest memories is me sitting on a sheep at Easter while she told me the story of the Sacrificial Lamb. We had it on Sundays with potato'.
This is just one of the many brilliantly quirky remarks of Jeanette that sparkle throughout Oranges. What so stands her apart from other modern writers in this novel is her signature frank style of writing - a refreshingly clean and matter-of-fact narrative, yet so flawlessly precise and so perfectly encapsulating of the emotions behind different experiences in life. Jeanette's idiosyncratic writing is one where every sentence shines with unadulterated beauty and raw poetic force. Her rare sensitivity and affinity with words and language itself is more than amazing - it is magical.
Oranges is more than Jeanette's autobiography weaven amidst fairytale myths and parables. It is more than a story about the struggle between religion and sexuality. It is the the story of all of us, it is our story. The betrayal of parental figures, the driving force of budding sexuality, the mixture of indifference and indignance towards an ex-lover, the innate loyalty to family deep within, all these are passages of life we all walk through, yet how often is it so penetratingly and unforgettably recorded in a chronicle that will be read again and again for many generations to come. Jeanette is the voice of a generation crying out for independence and the need to be true to our hearts; she is the hidden voice of all of us.
That perhaps is what really makes Oranges so special and personal, that behind Jeanette's dazzling prose we hear our story, our voice.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 20 June 2002
This is a very helpful and well-written guide to this novel, which gives lots of interesting background information about the author and her works, as well as offering insight into the book itself. It made me look at a number of aspects of the novel in different and deeper ways - as a result I considered angles and ideas I would not have come up with on my own. I was particularly grateful for info about the biblical references JW makes.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 11 December 2011
I've picked this novel up a few times and rejected it as reading matter because of fears that the rather stern earnestness of the author exhibited on various review shows down the years might have produced a dour account of an oppressed childhood rather than a good read.In the end, I was suprised by mix of verbal dexterity and earthy wit that would have done Victoria Wood or even Les Dawson credit.The antics of the central character's ludicrous mother and her crazy Lancashire sect dragged me in immediately and kept me quite happy until repetition of a cycle of rebellion against social and sexual repression followed by punishment by the sect became sadly tedious.

The other rather trying element of the novel is the use of fairy tale or Arthurian interchapters employed, I suppose, to add some kind of psychological depth to the main business of the novel. I tried with the first couple of these and then gave them up through a mixture of incomprehension and wanting to get back to the knockabout stuff in the main storyline.I can see that "Oranges" would have been a very slim volume without these worthy moments of poetic introspection but I could well have done without them.

So, in the end, I enjoyed most of what I read and will look more fondly on Jeanette Winterson when I next see or hear her holding forth on TV or radio but if I try another of her novels, I'll hope for more Les and less Arthur.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 6 March 2000
Jeanette Winterson has written a powerful novel which will challenge the reader on many different levels. Its treatment of the lifestory to young adulthood of a non-conformist woman is so real you can touch the emotion. The layering of one story on another demonstrates Miss Winterson's marvellous technique as a novelist, whilst the way she weaves the Pentateuch into her plot will send you racing to check the original! A great read and well worth a deeper look.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 29 July 2011
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit was Jeanette Winterson's first novel, and it caused much controversy when it was first published in 1985 due to its heavy criticism of religious customs and superstitions. The main character in the book, Jeanette, is a teenage girl whose family is strongly religious of the Pentecostal faith, and who do not accept Jeannette for who she is. There are many biblical references in the text, as well as quotes, other stories, and historical occurrences.

Jeanette is more rebellious than her religion can allow her to be. She is interested in her sexuality and she experiments with her close friend Melanie, though due to their strict upbringings they are both quite naïve in this respect- neither of them really understand what they are doing. When her church community find out about their encounters, they rigorously exorcise Jeanette, and put her through several other punishments in the hope that her suffering will cleanse her. This may not be a common practice today, but it is often still a very Christian view, and Winterson is somewhat ruthless in portraying it.

There is more to the book than its sexual theme, however. The novel demonstrates the classic clash between an older and younger generation, particularly within a faith that is not willing to evolve with the ages. It is also a journey of self-discovery for Jeanette, and her quest to find her own truth outside of the religious conformity and authority she has always known.

Jeanette's mother has little tolerance for things she disagrees with, and she sees everything in black and white: to her, there is God and The Devil, and there is nothing in between. Hence, she tells Jeanette that 'oranges are the only fruit', but Jeanette is not convinced and is driven to seeking out other types of experience or way of life.

As a first novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is strikingly original and full of literary merit. Personally though I found the book hard to follow, as the themes Winterson uniquely covered at the time of release are now prevalent in many novels, so I found them to be a tad repetitive. I also struggled with some of the language in the book. It is not difficult to read exactly but I found that it took a lot of work to get through, as there is so much to think about in it. I think Oranges is perhaps better as a studied text than a book read for pleasure. I will add however that I am a fan of Winterson, and I think some of her other works which are far more enjoyable than Oranges have been overlooked by the critics.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 10 September 2007
It's all in the title. This is truely a masterpiece. Being a sort-of biography, the story tells that of Jeanette as a young girl, growing up in a stric religious society whilst having to cope with the struggles of having feelings for another woman.
Throughout the book the main character is faced with the troubles of defying a parental figure, the pains of unacceptance and of course the struggles of lesbianism. Anyone who has fought with the angst of coming to terms with sexuality will relate to this book greatly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 December 2013
"Oranges are not the only Fruit" by Jeanette Winterson is the final book I read as part of a 2013 Eclectic Reader challenge. I ended up choosing this book to fulfil the LGBT requirement after my wife suggested it to me as she had enjoyed reading it when she was in her teens.

The story itself is semi-autobiographical and follows Jeanette as she grows up amongst a devout Pentecostal mother who is raising her to be a missionary and Jeanette herself believes from an early age that she is meant to serve God. However, as Jeanette grows into a teenager she begins to explore her sexuality with a close friend called Melanie which is discovered and demonised by the church community. Jeanette therefore struggles to come to terms with her own sexuality, her love for God and her relationship with a community she has grown up with.

To be honest, the sexual elements of the story didn't really strike me as being overly important and it kind of took a backseat to the real thrust of the novel which was to criticise the rather strict and unyielding dogma of her family's religious community. This criticism is all supported by the way in which we can witness the clash between different generations and Jeanette's difficult journey to find some sort of truth and self-acceptance even though it goes against the way she was brought up.

In regards to the writing style, I found that the disjointed sentences, short paragraphs and quiry comments helped to drive home the feeling that I was following a young girl. The only issue I had was that this writing style continued as Jeannette grows into a sixteen year old rebel who has lesbian experiences at least twice. The cute, almost innocent feeling of the style which worked with Jeanette was a nine year old just didn't feel right as she grew into an adolescent. Also, whilst some of the comments made by Jeanette were quite humorous and witty on the whole it did feel rather dry and lacking in any real emotional punch as if it was being told very factually.

One element of the novel I really couldn't be bothered with was the way in which the story was interspersed with fantasy/fairy tale sequences which were rather surreal. When the first one appeared I found it rather strange but as they kept on coming I found myself finding them rather irritating and soon just skipped them altogether. I am sure that someone can tell me of a reasoning and deep meaning behind them but for me they just interfered with the real life tale of a young woman coming to terms with herself.

Overall, I did find this to be an interesting look at a young woman's attempt to find herself in the face of a strict religious upbringing. Given the novels strong LGBT portrayal I was surprised that the sexual element was actually very subtle and was used to criticise the way in which a strict upbringing can affect a child to the point that they struggle to understand and accept themselves rather than just criticising an anti-homosexual viewpoint. This was definitely a new experience for me and I am glad my wife recommended it as it was enjoyable enough even if some of the writing style didn't work for me.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 February 2012
This book tells the story of the strange up-bringing of the author Jeanette Winterson. It is interspersed with little stories and fables which cast reflections upon her own life. She tells of her deeply religious mother and the education which led Jeanette to become a preacher and leader of the group while still a schoolgirl. Her sexual orientation led to ructions both at home and in the wider church community.

I first read this book many years ago and thought it was ok but nothing in particular. I have just re-read it for our local book group and have laughed so much. I never noticed this before. The book hasn't changed of course, but it's obvious that a reader's taste can change over time. The work is not presented in jokey form but so many dead-pan remarks from the young Jeanette really amused me. She doesn't take herself seriously and is very non-judgemental about others.

This is a remarkable book and justifiably popular.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 14 November 2002
This novel has often been criticised as Winterson's best now that she has gone on to write several powerfully experimental novels. This is implying that she should have remained in these more familiar regions of experience or stuck to a slightly more conventional mode of narrative. What's tremendous about this novel is the way it works as a perfect springboard for the kind of fiction that is being so negatively criticised for its inventiveness. This is a story about a girl who is struggling with the conventions of a restrictive Pentecostal community in a small spot of England, but it is also about the interplay between reality and fiction in people's lives. Jeanette's fables are established to be as valid as the complex religious practices of her family. The characters of the novel constantly differ to a fictional artifice to hold together the reality they cannot understand. Tension builds when the fictional worlds that people struggle to hold into place contradicts other people's realities. This novel is a tribute to the fight for independence and survival. She powerfully asserts that there is a necessary space for these fictional parts of people's realities despite the conflict it will inevitably create. She suggests that the reality built in fiction is also the truth of our own fictions accepted as reality. The interplay of these two creates a living reality.
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