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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit was written by Jeanette Winterson when she was just 24 “during the winter of 1983 and the spring of 1984.” It was her first book and went through more than a few publishers' hands before newly created Pandora’s Press took a chance with Winterson’s self-described “experimental novel” about a gay teenage girl brought up in a fanatically religious family. Pandora was rewarded for their risk when Oranges… went on to win the Whitbread Award for best first novel after enormous sales thanks to rampant word-of-mouth but very little publicity.

In the Vintage Books edition of Oranges… Winterson gives the reader a stark review of her own novel. “Oranges is a threatening novel,” she tells us. Her purpose is to expose the “psychoses” of the church and the “sham” of the family unit. She claims these two institutions profess love as their foundation, but instead thwart love along with happiness, freedom, and individuality. Specifically, the love that is thwarted by family and church in this novel is the homosexual love between the teenage protagonist, Jeanette, and a friend that she has successfully converted to her Fundamentalist church. The reaction of Jeanette’s fanatically religious mother is extreme to say the least and involves everything from hours of interrogation by members of the church to days of incarceration and starvation.

Winterson’s novel is best described as a fictionalized autobiography. She is herself gay and had a similar upbringing – she even gives the protagonist her own name. The isolated childhood she endures in the midst of a dysfunctional family (and that is to put it mildly) and an extreme fundamentally evangelical church could be a very sad story – but isn’t.  Winterson is very funny and her style, though “experimental” as she says, and unlike anything I’ve ever read before, is absolutely delightful and makes for an easy and quick read. You will be hooked from the first few sentences…

Review by Kendra Runnalls, Community Librarian for the Revelstoke Branch

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