Sep 27, 2015

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit: My Review

Jeanette is a small town girl adopted by an active church member, whose religious beliefs bordered cultish insanity. Her mother’s and the whole church community’s influence followed her formative years. She carried their beliefs naively and was shunned at school for doing weird things out of faith.

As ingrained by her adoptive mother, she became a pastor expecting to be a missionary to “save souls”. Young and precocious, Jeanette developed an early interest in the nature of romantic relationships, most especially that of marriage. She would eavesdrop and observe adults trying to figure out how best to go about it when her time comes.

Getting very little information that is ambiguous to her, she fell in love 
by mistake one fateful day at the market. With a girl named Melanie. This Unnatural Passion led her to the very thing that would estrange her to the faith she thought she understood.

 She was denounced by the church and forced to leave home.

Jeanette returned after a while following the death of her dear friend. She spent time alone one day and came to terms with the frailty of human love and found a deeper understanding of herself.

"Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit" is Jeanette Winterson’s first novel. It is a semi-autobiography which only became apparent to me when I read the introduction from start to finish.

It’s my second Winterson; third had I finished “The Powerbook” – I disliked that one enough to not finish it. (Though this could be faulted to my very little knowledge of the literature she alluded to).
On the other hand, her “Lighthousekeeping” kept me reeling and almost tearful a few days after. As it is, I have mixed feelings with her books. So I didn’t have big expectations when I started reading.

(demons, circles and how not to eat oranges)

The book is laden with dark moments but Winterson did away from sentimentality and drama. Just when it gets heavy, some kind of comic punch or childlike perspective would cut in. I find this book mildly funny at the beginning. Sometimes satirically sometimes just plain humour. But you can’t not take it seriously. 

I like that even while exposing the evils of twisted faith there is something detached and non-judging about how it was told. Yet that did not prevent one from feeling for the main character and her supporters.

She employed parts of known literature to highlight some turning points. And sometimes veered away from the main story line to tell another -- something of what she referred to as spiral narrative. Though I praise the author’s originality, I sometimes struggle in following the story thanks to my still strongly linear reading brain.  

As shared in the introduction, this was her first venture in this kind of writing and it has indeed become her signature style.

Oranges , (yes the fruits),would often show up in the different parts of the novel with the protagonist being tired of them.I wanted to think of it as a symbol for the rigidity of religious fundamentalist’s beliefs. At the end, she mentioned pineapple dishes being served again and again, her mom saying, “after all, oranges are not the only fruit. “ This could stand for the softening of those beliefs. Or finally leaving their past-- those damned "oranges" behind. 

I like how she found real friendship in people from inside the church too. One of them turned out to be a lesbian herself.  It made up for the cruelty and folly of most characters. And I can't help mentioning,the insignificance of her father’s presence.

       The fictions I enjoyed when I was much younger are those with typical beginning, middle and clear cut endings. Did this and that finally happen / not happen? How will these events lead to the climax and so on...
As I grow older, stumbling upon one author after another, I slowly discovered a different brand of reading pleasure. I found out one can bask in the beauty of the prose without caring much about how things will actually turn out.

I acknowledge how highly subjective this is. Nonetheless, when an author’s writing style itself draws you in, it is safe to say that they have a very special way with words. This is how I felt with Oranges.

If my younger self could see the synopsis above, I’m sure she’ll dismiss it as too heavy, unimaginative or even clich├ęd. And so when I find myself reading these “who-cares-about-the-ending” types, it’s almost always because I leafed through it beforehand or found the previews very limited, but somehow interesting.

The young Jeanette’s ruminations comforted me. But in no terms does the novel seek to comfort. It is a meditation on a troubled soul told from the point of view of a young lesbian alongside conventional moral values. On some levels, a violent seeking of self-acceptance.

 “ Leaning on the coffee table was the orange demon.

I’ve gone mad I thought. 
‘That may well be so, ‘agreed the demon evenly. 
‘So make the most of it.’

‘Demons are evil, aren’t they?’ I asked, worried.
‘Not quite, they’re just different, and difficult.’

‘If I keep you what will happen?’
‘You’ll have a difficult, different time.’

‘Is it worth it?’
‘That’s up to you.’ "

Thirty years after its publication, we’ve already witnessed major changes on our society’s views on sexual preferences But while this is so, the deeper questions she posed was not even directed at the church or at a judging society. Instead, she turned into herself asking difficult questions and recognizing that what she searches for (true love) might be impossible but still- might exist. Or maybe not.

 “ I don’t even know if God exists but I do know that if God is your emotional role model, very few human relationships will match up to it. “ 

These reflections were mostly laid out at the ending and I was no longer comforted at that point.

“The unknownness of my needs frightens me.

I do not know how huge they are, or how high they are,

 I only know that they are not being met.”

I wanted a sort of redemption for her. Never mind her uneventful return. I was hoping for an epiphany, a deed, or a scene, anything to show that she transcended her suffering. To tell everyone just how wrong they were about love.

But the book ended with her wishing she could go back in time when her faith was not yet so badly shaken.

Still there is strength in admitting :

I seemed to have run in a great circle, and met myself again on the starting line.”

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