Revisiting an old good book: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

| October 4, 2011

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson

Where I got the book: I’ve been re-reading old paperbacks on my bookshelf at home one by one, so I grabbed this off my own shelf.  (Our bookshelves are organized by color of spine, not by author or subject (gasp!) and so right now, I’m reading through the orange section.

How you can find it in the library: PR6073.I558 O7 1987 (at Barnard and Butler)

Plot synopsis: The young Jeanette (not to be confused with the author–it’s a novel) is adopted by an evangelical family who raises her to become a missionary.  Though she’s an outcast at school, Jeanette grows up thinking herself special, and feels perfectly comfortable living among her extensive quirky cast of church friends and relatives until she discovers she’s attracted to her best (female) friend, and her finely balanced home-life falls apart.  Spunky, clever, and full of religious witticisms, Winterson’s first novel won the Whitbread Prize for Best Fiction and is taught in many college English courses.

Why I’d recommend it: I first read this book when I was an undergrad (for fun, not for class) and loved it, and was curious to see if I’d feel the same now.  If anything, I appreciated this book far more on my second read; I’m not sure I originally picked up on the dexterity of Winterson’s sly religious puns or fully grasped her extended metaphors (executed through a series of fairy tales that break up the main narrative).  Many of the scenes are so funny I was crying laughing while on the subway–a situation I find vaguely embarrassing.  I kept laughing and then thinking to myself, “Self, pull it together.  Think of something sad.”  But curiosity would compel me to keep reading again, and again I’d start laughing.  But more than her humour I appreciate her depth.  For instance, a passage toward the end, when she’s struggling to leave her religion (she starts speaking to a demon who appears on her windowsill in the form of an orange).  “I knew I couldn’t cope, so I didn’t try. I would let the feeling out later, when it was safe.  For now, I had to be hard and white. In the frosty days, in the winter, the ground is white, then the sun rises, and the frosts melt….”  It’s the sort of book I read more and more slowly as it progressed, hoping I could somehow avoid finishing, but alas! I finished it.

Time for the next book in the orange section of my bookshelf.

Check out the author’s website for more info.