Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a classic in lesbian literature. It is the first lesbian book that I ever heard of, and so I thought I would read it during #DiverseAThon, along with the classic Their Eyes Were Watching God (review to be published soon!)
Written by Jeanette Winterson (author of other works such as Written on the Body), this is highly biographical (the protagonist is called Jeanette, for example). It makes me wonder why Winterson decided to later release an actual biography, Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? I am probably going to read that, I won’t lie, but it makes me wonder, all the same.
The vast majority of the book focuses on her mother’s religious fanaticism, and Jeanette’s subsequent social isolation, and belief that she must be possessed by a demon in order to have feelings towards women. It is a classic text about the perceived separation between homosexuality and religion – the idea that you can be gay, or religious, but not both. But I won’t lie, it just didn’t quite do it for me. Everything was there – I can see why it is a classic, I really can. It just felt quite passionless to me. Jeanette leaves her entire life behind for the sake of women who are barely mentioned – there’s maybe two scenes with her lover, and neither of them said anything about the love shared between them.
I thought the text picked up near the end, as Winterson introduces different stories or fantasies that are parables of what Jeanette was experiencing. However, this is not developed as well as it could have been, and only happens in the final fourth of the novel. If it had been a true autobiography, this could have transitioned very well into the idea of Winterson as a writer….but it wasn’t.
I am very pleased that I’ve finally read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – reading texts like these really make me look at the privilege I have today. However, it wasn’t quite what I’d hoped it would be. Hopefully Winterson’s other books will be more to my liking!