She had never heard of mixed feelings. There were friends, and they were enemies:
- The Devil (in his many forms)
- Next Door (Neighbours)
- Sex (in its many forms)
- Our dog
- Auntie Madge
- The Novels of Charlotte Bronte
- Slug pellets
She is Jeanette’s mother. Jeanette was adopted into a religious family. Her mother told Jeanette to be dedicated to the Lord and that she is destined for a life of missionary. Jeanette spent her life in church activities, preaching, singing religious songs and hymns, giving out tracts to strangers, singing praises to the Lord; and at every possible occasion, her mother always proffers an orange.
“The only fruit,” she always said.
Fruit salad, fruit pie, fruit for fools, fruited punch. Demon fruit, passion fruit, rotten fruit, fruit on Sunday.
Jeanette describes a life living with a religious zealous mother, one which her mother’s religious routine was imposed onto Jeanette’s. Jeanette made light of her experience in good sense of humour. Jeanette did not go to school until she was 7, because her mother cited the school as the “Breeding Ground” (for the devil’s thought I suppose). Jeanette was made to believe by her mother that Jane Eyre married St John, her mother always prayed standing up, because of her knees, just as Bonaparte always gave orders from his horse, because of his size. It’s one of those books that made you snigger involuntarily at the daily anecdotes while on a public train, and the next minute you are left to reflect the deepest meanings of Jeanette’s inner struggles.
Perception, she said was a fraud; had not St Paul said we see in a glass darkly, had not Wordsworth said we see by glimpses? ‘ This piece of fruit cake’ – she waved it between bites – ‘ this cake doesn’t need me to eat it to make it edible. It exists without me.’
That was a bad example, but I knew what she meant. It meant that to create was a fundament, to appreciate, a supplement. Once created was, the creature was separate from the creator, and needed no seconding to fully exist.
Jeanette grew up in a circle of strong women, her mother, Elsie Norris, Auntie Madge etc. a sort of religious feminist club; and men was projected as this good-for-nothing beastly creature that has no part to play on the main stage….
In this story, a beautiful young woman finds herself the forfeit of a bad bargain made by her father. As a result, she has to marry an ugly beast, or dishonour her family forever. Because she is good, she obeys. On her wedding night, she gets into bed with the beast, and feeling pity that everything should be so ugly, gives it a little kiss. Immediately the beast is transformed into a handsome young process and they both live happily ever after.
I wondered if the woman married to a pig had read this story. She must have been awfully disappointed if she had. What about my Uncle Bill, he was horrible, and hairy, and looking at the picture, transformed princess aren’t meant to be hairy at all.
Slowly I closed the book. It was clear that I had stumbled on a terrible conspiracy.
There are women in the world.
There are men in the world.
And there are beasts. What do you do if you marry a beast?
Kissing them didn’t always help.
And beasts are crafty. They disguise themselves like you and I.
Like the wolf in ‘Little Red Riding Hood’.
Why had no one told me? Did that mean no one else knew?
Did that mean that all over the globe, in all innocence, women were marrying beasts?
With such belief, is it no surprise when Jeanette fell in love with a girl, Melanie. In the eyes of her mother and community, a heresy has been committed.
The writing style is very witty and clever. Jeanette uses fables and fairy tales to describe her emotional struggle or what happened next after her fight with her mother. The book is broken up into chapters that were similar to the Bible, (ohh.. I can remember this now..) Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers… and in the early chapters finishes off with a fable and a theme. As I mentioned in Booking Through Thursday: Plotting, the book balanced up Streams of Consciousness with Plotting really well.
When Lot’s wife looked over her shoulder, she turned into a pillar of salt. Pillars hold things up and salt keeps things clean, but it’s a poor exchange for losing yourself. People do go back but they don’t survive, because two realities are claiming them at the same time. Such things are too much. You can salt our heart, or kill our heart, or you choose between the two realities. There is much pain here. Going back after a long time will make you mad, because the people you left behind do not like to think of you changed, will treat you as they always did, accuse you of being indifferent, when you are only different.
If there is one word to describe my feeling about the book, it would be awesome, awesome, awesome. But I have decided to leave you with the author’s summary of the essence of this book, because anything I say from now on will not be impartial. I strongly impel you (or come knock your doors if I could) to read this book, it’s brilliant.
Oranges is a threatening novel. It exposes the sanctity of family life as something of a sham; it illustrates by example that what the church calls love is actually psychosis and it dates to suggest that what makes life difficult for homosexuals is not their perversity but other people’s. Worse, it does these things with such humour and lightness that those disposed not to agree, find that they do.
Oranges is a comforting novel. Its heroin is someone on the outside of life. She’s poor, she’s working class but she has to deal with the big questions that cut across class, culture and colour. Everyone, at some time in their life, must choose whether to stay with a ready-made world that may be safe abut which is also limiting, or to push forward, often past the frontiers of commonsense, into a personal place, unknown and untried. In Oranges this quest is one of sexuality as well as individuality.
Is Oranges an autobiographical novel? No not at all and yes of course.
– Introduction by Jeanette Winterson, London 1991.
I simply adore this book and I say this with certainty now that I will endeavour to read all her books. Jeanette Winterson looks set to be my favourite author. I could feel it in my bones.
I first heard about this book in Mel U’s Reading Life wonderful blog review and 501 must read books list. I’m not reading this for any particular challenge, perhaps to share it with people at the World Religion Challenge or Typically British Challenge. But I’m not convinced, I’ll try to read something more befitted for both challenges in the near future.
Paperback. Publisher: Vintage 2001, originally published in 1985; Length: 171 pages; Setting: 1980’s Lancashire. Source: Library. Finished reading at: 8 April 2010
About the writer:
Jeanette Winterson OBE (born 27 August 1959) is a British novelist.
Winterson was born in Manchester and raised in Accrington, Lancashire, by adoptive parents Constance and John William Winterson. Intending to become a Pentecostal Christian missionary, she began evangelising and writing sermons at age six, but by 16 Winterson declared she was lesbian and left home. She soon after attended Accringto and Rossendale College and supported herself at a variety of odd jobs while reading for a degree in English at St Catherine’s College, Oxford
After moving to London, her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, was published when she was 26 years old. It won the 1985 Whitbread Prize for a First Novel, and was adapted for television by Winterson in 1990, which in turn won the BAFTA Award for Best Drama. She won the 1987 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for The Passion, a novel set in Napoleonic Europe.
Winterson’s subsequent novels explore the boundaries of physicality and the imagination, gender polarities, and sexual identities, and have won several literary awards. Her stage adaptation of The PowerBook in 2002 opened at the Royal National Theatre, London. She also bought a derelict terraced house in Spitalfields, East London, which she refurbished into a flat as a pied-a-terre and a ground-floor shop, Verde’s, to sell organic food.
Winterson was made an officer of Order of the British Empire (OBE) at the 2006 New Year Honours.