27 May 2007

Book Review: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

New Year’s Reading Resolutions #12

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit Jeanette is not like other girls. She doesn’t attend school until forced by law, and until then is taught odd smatterings of knowledge by her fervently religious mother. She learns biology from the Bible and geography by following the progress of missionaries from reports on the radio. Active in the church and its touring campaigns of conversion, she is destined to be a missionary herself. Those plans receive a check when she comes to realise just how different she is: Jeanette likes other girls.

Her experimental relationship with best friend Melanie ends disastrously; Melanie, a committed convert, abandons her in favour of a church-sanctioned life and Jeanette is subjected to days of exorcism for her ‘demons’. Eventually she decides that if she cannot change she must leave; but she discovers that the past can never be completely left behind.

I might have made it sound more interesting than it actually was. Standing on the platform yesterday morning, I realised that if I wasn’t facing a long day with nothing else to read, I wouldn’t feel much inclination to continue. Not that I had any particular aversion to it; I just didn’t have any particular interest and could have quit without regret. I think it worked better as a portrait of religious oddity that as an actual story with plot, and I was after the latter. As it was, despite being set in the UK it reminded me somewhat of the documentary God on my Side. Unfortunately the book lacked the film’s train-wreck fascination (or perhaps it just lacked Andrew Denton). No: what was missing was any real sense of connection to the characters. And am I the only one who finds it a little weird when authors name main characters after themselves?

It also lacked coherence; I found it hard to gauge the passage of time and so couldn’t form a clear mental image of the protagonist (should I be picturing a child or a teenager?), and the book was littered with fragments of legends and fairy tales. Sometimes it was possible to see the relevance of these to the main plot, but sometimes not, and it could be jarring to be switched back and forth. But Winterson has a pleasant writing style with touches of humour and I would be willing to give her books another chance or two - but no more.

Rating: C


Framed said...

Sounds like a very odd book. But I will be looking forward to reading your review on "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell." It's on my TBR list.

Anonymous said...

I would recommend a good reading of a decent version of the Bible (say the New KJV) at least for an understanding of Biblical references in classic fiction. It's had a huge impact on the English language. Jane Eyre for example is packed with references, some obscure and fewer less so. It actually ends with the same lines the Bible ends with.

But an abridged version of Ruth is hardly worth your while. The original is only four chapters! Joshua isn't exactly long either at only 24 chapters.

Dewey said...

Yeah, naming characters after oneself is a bit strange unless it's obviously a memoir.

When I started reading this, it sounded incredibly good, but then you made it clear it really isn't.

John makes me wish I hadn't passed up that Bible As Literature class in college.

Imani said...

Hi, I've stopped by because of Dewey's blogroll game. :)

I heartily recommend Jane Eyre as well, but only because it is the best book in the universe (even if you don't get all the biblical allusions)! A handy classics edition with good footnotes would help you along if you wanted the help.

Some Bible books aren't bad. Ruth is my favourite, probably because it's a great romance story.

I'd like to read about what you thought of the Norrell book too -- I couldn't finish it because I found Clarke writing style too imitative.

Anonymous said...

Hey Imani... the Bible IS a romance book - all of it!

Amat Libris said...

Jane Eyre is on my list to re-read, and as I recall I do have a well-annotated version so the Biblical references should pose no problem.

I have (finally!) finished Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, but the review is taking a while because I'm having trouble working out how to summarise such a sprawling plot!

Kelly said...

Wierd! It sounds interesting, too bad it didn't pan out.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776