Vintage;1998, 171 pages
The first book of Jeanette Winterson, this is a semi-autobiographical novel about her growing up years in a small town in London. Adopted and raised by an extremely puritanical mother obsessed about cleansing sins living a ‘pure’ life (“…[my mother] had a mysterious attitude towards the begetting of children; it wasn’t that she couldn’t do it, more that she didn’t want to do it. She was very bitter about the Virgin Mary getting there first…”)
Expressing her environment through school works (art and writing), Winterson stood out even at an early age, among her peers, always being singled out by school teachers, in fear of poisoning the minds of other children.
She tried to abide by her church’s rules, until she reaches her teens and she falls in love with another woman. Following this is a series of prosecution and abomination from her mother and the church. With pastors coming over in an attempt to ‘exorcise’ her.
She moves out of the house and works for a funeral parlor. In the end, “reconciles” with her mother. Whats amazing about this book are Winterson’s views, beautiful writing and how she takes the blows of life. She tries to see herself in other historical figures, and uses that as a method to move on with life. Not like most autobiographical books on growing up / adolescent years, Winterson is not confused. She does not feel mixed up about her sexuality, knowing well what she wants, “..I would cross seas and suffer sunstroke and give away all I have, but not for a man. Because they want to be the destroyer and never be destroyed. That is why they are unfit for romantic love.”
Everytime she finds herself down, her mother always gives her an orange, and at one time, the fruit has become an icon of her ‘evil side’.
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit gives a good insight to survival mechanisms (rejection, loss, etc) and undeniably, her writing will draw you in.
Asked if this is an autobiography, Winterson states, not at all and yes of course. Hence, she beautifully wrote in the book that,
“People like to separate storytelling which is not fact from history, which is fact. They do this so that they know what to believe and what not to believe. Very often history is a means of denying the past. Denying the past is to refuse to recognise its integrity.To fit it, force it, function it, to suck out the spirit until it looks the way you think it should. We are all historians in our own way. People have never had a problem disposing of the past when it gets too difficult. Flesh will burn, photos will burn, and memory, what is that? If we can’t dispose of it, we can alter it.”
She does not wallow in self pity or depression, but also humble enough to say that “Cats can count on fire brigade, and Rapunzel was lucky with her hair. Everyone thinks their own situation is most tragic. I am no exception.”