Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
London, Vintage, 1990, 171p
Oranges are not the only Fruit was a novel my friend chose to write on during A-Level. (I chose The Bell Jar.) I remember promising her I would read it after our exams, once life settled down; but things happened and I forgot. For years, I have seen it in bookshops, libraries, charity shops, and sworn I will get around to it, and finally, now, I have fulfilled that promise.
Jeanette Winterson's novel professes to be a love story. For me, it was more of a journey. It is a sort-of-autobiographical account of growing up in a Pentecostal Christian household, whilst coming to the realisation that she is a lesbian. It is about self-discovery, happiness, and the importance of family. It is about being okay with being undefinable - no one can be wholly good or wholly evil. Sometimes, we are who we are.
Her loneliness is touching and reassuring. Jeanette feels like an outsider in a world of religious rules and oppositions. She cannot comprehend how her sexuality makes her a bad person, when her destiny is tied up in missionary work. Her journey is about understanding herself, breaking down the false barriers represented by binary labels of good / bad or right / wrong. It is not an everyday story, but the feelings are shared by many.
Winterson walks a delicate line between criticising the narrow-mindedness of religious obsession and preaching about the love of God - I was so impressed that she managed to not take a side. She draws on her knowledge of Christianity, using Biblical language and religious themes to tell her story, but also brings in other folk tales and legends. As such, the line between fiction and non-fiction is blurred (like I said, sort-of-autobiographical!).
It was this questioning of "truth" that I particularly adore about Jeanette Winterson. There is a chapter in the middle of the novel (a chapter I loved so much I read it twice) in which she explores the idea that history is determined by the story-teller. Reality is therefore malleable and subjective, and as readers, we must be contentious. We listen and we learn, and we weave our own ideas about what is the truth.