It’s LGBT month, so I am reviewing a book that digs right into the heart of what it is like to be persecuted within a community for your sexuality: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (BOOK ZONE 823.91).
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is about a young woman brought up in a strict religious community in northern England exploring her sexuality; it was partly based on Jeanette Winterson’s own experiences of identifying as lesbian in a Pentecostal town in Lancashire.
It is a classic coming-of-age-story in which Jess, the main character, begins to question the religious rules she has been brought up into and at the same time starts to use her rich imagination as an escape from her mundane and restrictive home life. She embarks on a relationship with another female student and the outraged community (including her own mother) tries everything to remove this ‘immorality’, starving her and eventually casting her out from the church, in a scene which is immensely difficult to read.
However, Jess remains strong and defiant, never giving in to the pressure from her family. She imagines scenes from fairy tales and myths in which she is a knight fighting impossible odds but destined to win through, and this same determination eventually leads her to leave her little town and become a writer (much like Winterson herself).
In some ways, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit feels like two books: the realistic story of Jess’s relationships with the reactions of the religious community, and the bizarre, beautiful world inside Jess’s head. However, there is so much to Winterson’s writing that, looking deeper into the fairy tale stories, they constantly reflect what is going on in Jess’s life, as Jess uses the stories she loves to understand what is happening to her and as an inspiration to never lose who she truly is.
Winterson has said that she does not think of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit as an LGBT novel: ‘It’s for anyone interested in what happens at the frontiers of common-sense. Do you stay safe or do you follow your heart?’ (source: http://www.jeanettewinterson.com/book/oranges-are-not-the-only-fruit/) However, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit remains an inspiration to people questioning and exploring their own sexual identity as well as a heartfelt and moving book for any reader.
If you liked Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit…
Learn more about it in the York Notes Advanced by Jeanette Winterson and Kathryn Simpson (BOOK ZONE 823.91).
Try the TV adaptation, written by Winterson herself (BOOK ZONE 823.91).
Have a look at Winterson’s appearance on the Southbank Show talking about her work (recorded on DVD in the BOOK ZONE 823.91).
Read Winterson’s website, where she has a brief section on each of her books as well as a blog and a great collection of her articles: http://www.jeanettewinterson.com/