10 August 2009

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

It was my turn to pick the August book for my face-to-face book group (and strangely the hat coughed up my name for September, too) so I chose Jeanette Winterson's Whitbread-winner Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. I read Sexing the Cherry not long ago and loved the vivid fantasy sequences and multiple narrative lines; I really wanted to give Winterson's first novel a try and roping my friends into reading it with me was the perfect opportunity.

OANtOF is an autobiographical tale, based very closely on Winterson's own upbringing within a Pentecostal family. The narrator is even named Jeanette and many of the events in the plot closely mirror Winterson's own life (particularly the decision to embrace her sexuality and leave the church). I have to say I was a little disappointed when I started the book because I was expecting something fantastical like StC and instead got quite a load of realism. It was only a little disppointment, though, because Winterson's gift for description makes Jeanette's story play out as vividly as an event taking place right in front of me. The parallel fantasies and allegories come into play primarily in the latter half of the novel with the orange demon, Winnet, and Sir Perceval. I figured out the meanings of most of the allegory, but I'm a little bit stuck on Sir Perceval; one friend thinks that it's Jeanette's reflection on not being "pure" enough to continue her missionary work. Interesting thought, but I think I'll need to look in my Vintage Living texts Winterson volume to see if that's covered.

I haven't yet decided whether Winterson still identifies with the Pentecostal missionary church because there doesn't seem to be a conscious rejection of that church in the novel. The novel Jeanette seems to waver between the strict confines of the church's doctrine and belonging to the world at large. The end of the novel skips quite a bit through time so it felt like we missed out on Jeanette's thoughts while the allegories took center stage. I did feel that Jeanette wished for acceptance from her church although she is regarded as the biggest sinner of them all because of her sexuality even though several of the church elders were actually robbing the church or actively embezzling money from the converted.

I thought OANtOF was a great pick for our book club; we'll have lots to discuss (unless Kate and Beth come from out of town then we'll just visit with them - hurrah for visits from good friends). I do think that I like StC better because of the fantasy imagery. I'll probably have to re-read both of them o make a decendt decision.

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