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Book review: Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

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By Jamie Stewart

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is a coming-of-age novel about a young woman who struggles to conform to the expectations of those around her, as well as God, and herself.

Jeanette is going to be a missionary. That, her mother is sure of. Jeanette’s path was dictated for her, and she was ready to accept a life devoted to God and saving the lost. That is, until she meets Melanie. Melanie changes things. When Jeanette realises that there is an alternative to the life set out for her, she sees no other way. Winterson expertly combines the coming-of-age trope with curiosity, sexuality and theology into a story of lesbian celebration.

Oranges has spent its time in many different sections of bookshops, explains Winterson in the introduction to this book. Cookery, marmalade manuals, and finally the Gay/Lesbian section. “That is fine by me,” she writes, “though why are we so busy with the labels? Oranges is for anybody and everybody.”

With Oranges, she also poses the question, why, when a female writer uses her own life’s story as inspiration for a novel, is it considered a work of memoir? It is difficult, at first, to read Oranges without thinking of the main character as the writer herself. Why else has she used her own name for the main character when it is a work of fiction? “[I]t was about self-invention…I wanted to use myself as a fictional character – an expanded ‘I’.”

Reading Oranges is like peeling one. You dig your nails in, rip at the skin, and tear away it away until the segments are ready to be eaten. There may be a few pips in there that you need to spit out. You might even, like Jeanette, make an igloo with the peel.

About the author / 

Jamie Stewart

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