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I came to Jeanette Winterson quite late, and have no idea what took me so long. Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, her first book, is the fourth Winterson I've read in as many months.

It’s probably because, knowing the one-word ‘what is this book about?’ preconception subject matter of ‘Oranges’ I mistakenly assumed it was a book devoted to lesbian erotica. Or, perhaps as Winterson amusingly suggests in her prologue to my 2009 digitised edition or perhaps truthfully suggests – she is, after all clear to remind us she is a writer of fiction, of novels:

When Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit was first published in 1985 it was often stocked in the cookbooks section with the marmalade manuals.” (from the Introduction)

As is known Jeanette Winterson had a harsh beginning. Adopted by an extraordinarily eccentric couple (particularly the dominating Mrs Winterson), fervent Pentacostalists, Mrs W’s life-plan for the adopted baby was to raise her to be a missionary. The extraordinary creative, imaginative, hugely intelligent child Jeanette turned out to be was never quite going to fit into classic missionary mode. Though close acquaintance with the Bible and the English Hymnals did bring her into early contact with a rich, lustrous, poetic language.

“Best of all, she had a collage of Noah’s Ark. It showed the two parent Noah’s leaning out looking at the flood while the other Noah’s tried to catch one of the rabbits. But for me, the delight was a detachable chimpanzee, made out of a Brillo pad,; at the end of my visit she let me play with it for five minutes. I had all kinds of variations, but usually I drowned it”

Sex was not really part of Mrs Winterson’s mission statement for the little girl, but when Jeanette showed herself to have, along with all her other qualities, a passionate nature that was challenge enough for Mrs W – who abjured sex. The fact that Jeanette’s passions were directed towards other women proved to be several steps too far.

“Deuteronomy had its drawbacks; it’s full of Abominations and Unmentionables. Whenever we read about a bastard, or someone with crushed testicles, my mother turned over the page and said ‘Leave that to the Lord,’ but when she’d gone I’d sneak a look. I was glad I didn’t have testicles. They sounded like intestines only on the outside, and the men in the Bible were always having them cut off and not be able to go to church. Horrid”

The facts of Jeanette’s life – of course subjectively experienced as well as observed by her writerly sense – are expressed in another book (wonderful) “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal”, Winterson’s autobiography.

THIS book, by contrast, though it uses ‘what she knows’ – herself, and her own life in this case, as springboard, is NOT autobiography, it is a novel, genre literary fiction, even though the central character is called ‘Jeanette’ and her mother is Mrs Winterson.

Winterson rather tartly (and quite probably correctly) wonders if, had she been a young man using his dysfunctional background as springboard, the critics would have been quicker to realise the work fiction, literary fiction, and indeed fiction where the novel’s form is being explored. It shouldn’t have been too much of a stretch to ascertain this as woven into the twentieth century Lancashire working class Pentecostal narrative, are various myths and legends, Arthurian, Grail, and the chapter titles are Old Testament biblical, and allude to the overall feel and flavour of particular books of the bible

“The priest has a book with the words set out. Old words, known words, words of power. Words that are always on the surface. Words for every occasion. The words work. They do what they’re supposed to do; comfort and discipline. The prophet has no book. The prophet is a voice that cries in the wilderness, full of sounds that do not always set into meaning. The prophets cry out because they are troubled by demons.”

The book is a journey towards individuation and authenticity : the Heroic Quest, that deep myth which underpins much literature. And literature itself provides many of the magical tools which help the hero – another version of Excalibur, in fact

Jeanette Winterson is a wonderful writer – inventive, rich in imagery, playful, dark, heart-breaking, shocking and more than a touch shamanic. And how she demonstrates this in her introduction:

“Reading is an adventure. Adventures are about the unknown. When I started to read seriously I was excited and comforted all at the same time. Literature is a mix of unfamiliarity and recognition……as we travel deeper into the strange world of the story, the feeling we get is of being understood…..it is the story (or the poem) that is understanding us

Books read us back to ourselves"

Yes. That was a hairs up on the back of the neck moment, for this reader.

Oranges works absolutely brilliantly as a fine, quirky, comedic page turning roman a clef, a girl’s journey to young woman. And is also something of depth and richness as well as brilliant sparkle
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on 27 May 2017
This book had passed me by for too long. So long ago in fact, did I watch the BBC dramatisation, that the only thing I remember about it, was the excellent portrayal of Jeanette, by the much missed, Charlotte Coleman, (who most of you will know from her role in Four Weddings & A Funeral).
Set in the north of England, the story charts our heroine's journey through her adolescence, arguing with her mother, beavering away in the church and questioning her sexuality, only to fall in love . . . with a girl!
The shock, the anger, the ostracisation from her community, builds to a point where Jeanette’s mother and fellow members of her church - the church where Jeanette once believed she would become a missionary - perform an exorcism.
She feels alienated, has nowhere to go, no-one to turn to, and suddenly, no lover, no future, nothing.
I like this book a lot, it's short but packs a punch, and has great atmosphere. You get the sense that Jeanette's mother and friends, truly believe that evil has taken her, that her being gay can actually be cured, as if she's caught a cold, or has the flu!
I also agree with one of the author’s quotes I found on the internet, if it be true:

"I've never understood why straight fiction is supposed to be for everyone, but anything with a gay character or that includes gay experience is only for queers”

. . . because this book is a love story, pure and simple, and like hundreds of other love stories, there are hurdles to jump and hills to climb, but gay or not, this is a book for everyone. Enjoy.
Four well deserved stars.
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on 9 March 2017
I know this book has been around a while, but somehow I missed it before. I saw the author interviewed on a book program on TV and was intrigued to read this. She does take you into her world, and her characters are very alive in your head. I have also purchased Why be happy when you could be normal for my next read. Easy to read, and not too long, or self indulgent.
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on 14 May 2017
Not for me I found it self indulgent and ... Bland
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on 18 May 2017
good
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on 6 October 2006
Before you even set foot in France with a view to buying a property you must arm yourself with this book.

Being in the middle of my own restoration, I have read several books on this subject and this is the best by a mile. I only wish I'd come across it earlier.

It doesn't use valuable space on pretty colour pictures and is packed full of useful practical information,names and addresses of official French agencies and guides to relevant rules and regulations etc. Not a paragraph is wasted and it is written in a very clear, readable style.

This book is my 'bible' on the subject and I wouldn't be without it
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on 21 April 2017
Wonderful exposition of a difficult childhood in a Pentecostal family. The child's voice was brilliant; some of the characters, especially the mother, were truly horrendous. It was also very funny in a 'if I don't laugh I will cry' way. I wasn't so sure about the little tales told as asides. Some of them made perfect sense, but others just detracted from the main narrative. But a great read, nonetheless.
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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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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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on 9 March 2011
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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