Saturday 14 December 2013

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit - Jeanette Winterson

Title: Oranges are Not the Only Fruit
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Genre: General Fiction
Published: 1985
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

“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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