Review: Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

by Stephen Tall on October 27, 2016

wintersonOranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson

This is the fifth novel plucked from my #40booksby40 list.

If you know it only as a “coming out novel” or, worse, “that lesbian book”, you are missing out, bigly. Jeanette Winterson’s K├╝nstlerroman is many things: rawly personal, laugh-out-loud funny, gorgeously big-hearted, seriously wise, indulgently surreal, and, yes, brilliantly written (she was just 26 when it was published).

I recall watching the BBC adaptation, which I loved though remembering it always makes me sad: Charlotte Coleman, who played 16 year-old Jeanette, died far too young. But what the TV series couldn’t convey was its Biblical structure: each chapter is named after one of its books, with Jeanette’s life-story framed by it, even as she starts to reject her oppressively evangelical upbringing.

There are scenes which will strike a chord with anyone brought up in a religious family (though, to be clear, mine was much more liberal): the goldfish-bowl social life, friendship, jealousies and judginess can be found in even the mildest Anglican congregation.

Ultimately, Jeanette is reconciled to her mother, to her upbringing, underpinned by acceptance of what is:

Families, real ones, are chairs and tables and the right number of cups, but I had no means of joining one, and no means of dismissing my own.