Jeanette Winterson: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

The debut novel of a British author, Jeanette Winterson, was released 30 years ago. The novel raised a lot of attention in those days and was made into a mini-series on BBC in 1989. Some lesbian scenes were probably raising some attention at that time. However, nowadays, there is not much of a shock value in same-gender love affairs – yet, what feels striking is the narrow-minded and strict view on life seen through the eyes of a religious community or sect.

Winterson´s book is based on her real life. She was adopted to a religious family and the story of the book concentrates on her childhood/teenage years in a small town in Mid-England. The controlling mother figure casts her shadow on Jeanette’s life: she needs to learn the facts from Bible by heart and thus strive to live an impeccable life. Home-schooling changes suddenly into a regular life in a public school, and this gives a lot of challenges to a young girl, whose originality leaves her as an outcast in a social environment. The support from the religious circles is all she has. Taking part of the sermons and looking for new members for the community forms the basis for her life; until she finds to fall in love with another girl. This puts her on a position that her mom & community does not accept – her leading to astray can only be healed through exorcism.

The Oranges are not the Only Fruit is a book about the struggle of finding one’s identity and giving a voice to a girl who refuses to be controlled. Yet at the same time, it shows the struggles of girl whose life is torn into different directions and wants to stay true to… what exactly?  Winterson´s book gives insight to a religious life that is heavily condemning the others, the outsiders and the unknown that is considered to threaten the predetermined Bible-based reality. Our book club found the book a little bit outdated in some parts, yet many allegories and small details of the story were seen as truly precious.

Jeanette Winterson has released many books since her debut – the story of her life continues in a book called Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (publ. 2011).

-Marika

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