Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

by Jeanette Winterson


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Winner of the Whitbread Prize for best first fiction, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a coming-out novel from Winterson, the acclaimed author of The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. The narrator, Jeanette, cuts her teeth on the knowledge that she is one of God’s elect, but as this budding evangelical comes of age, and comes to terms with her preference for her own sex, the peculiar balance of her God-fearing household crumbles.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802135162
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 08/20/1997
Series: Fiction Series
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 77,756
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

JEANETTE WINTERSON OBE is the author of ten novels, including Oranges are not the Only Fruit, The Passion and Sexing the Cherry; a book of short stories, The World and Other Places; a collection of essays, Art Objects as well as many other works, including children's books, screenplays and journalism. Her writing has won the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel, the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, the E. M. Forster Award and the Prix d'argent at Cannes Film Festival.

Read an Excerpt

Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle; it didn't mater what. She was in the white corner and that was that.

She hung out the largest sheets on the windiest days. She wanted the Mormons to knock on the door. At election time in a Labour mill town she put a picture of the Conservative candidate in the window.

She had never heard of mixed feelings. There were friends and there were enemies.

Enemies were:
The Devil (in his many forms)
Next Door
Sex (in its many forms)

Friends were:
Our dog
Auntie Madge
The Novels of Charlotte Brontë
Slug pellets

and me, at first, I had been brought in to join her in a tag match against the Rest of the World. She had a mysterious attitude towards the begetting of children; it wasn't that she couldn't do it, more that she didn't want to do it. She was very bitter about the Virgin Mary getting there first. So she did the next best thing and arranged for a foundling. That was me.

I cannot recall a time when I did not know that I was special. We had no Wise Men because she didn't believe there were any wise men, but we had sheep. One of my earliest memories is me sitting on a sheep at Easter while she told me the story of the Sacrificial Lamb. We had it on Sundays with potato.

Sunday was the Lord's day, the most vigorous days of the whole week; we had a radiogram at home with an imposing mahogany front and a fat Bakelite knob to twiddle for the stations. Usually we listened to the Light Programme, but on Sundays always the World Service, so that my mother could record the progress of our missionaries. Our Missionary map was very fine. On the front were all the countries and on the back a number chart that told you about Tribes and their Peculiarities. My favourite was Number 16, The Buzule of Carpathian. They believed that if a mouse found your hair clippings and built a nest with them you got a headache. If the nest was big enough, you might go mad. As far as I knew no missionary had yet visited them.

My mother got up early on Sundays and allowed no one into the parlour until ten o'clock. It was her place of prayer and meditation. She always prayed standing up, because of her knees, just as Bonaparte always gave orders from his horse, because of his size. I do think that the relationship my mother enjoyed with God had a lot to do with positioning. She was Old Testament through and through. Not for her the meek and paschal Lamb, she was out there, up front with the prophets, and much given to sulking under trees when the appropriate destruction didn't materialise. Quite often it did, her will of the Lord's I can't say.

She always prayed in exactly the same way. First of all she thanked God that she had lived to see another day, and then she thanked God for sparing the world another day. Then she spoke of her enemies, which was the nearest thing she had to a catechism.

As soon as 'Vengeance is mine saith the Lord' boomed through the wall into the kitchen, I put the kettle on. The time it took to boil the water and brew the tea was just about the length of her final item, the sick list. She was very regular. I put the milk in, in she came, and taking a great gulp of tea said one of three things.

'The Lord is good' (steely-eyed into the back yard).

'What sort of tea is this?' (steely-eyed at me).

'Who was the oldest man in the Bible?'

No. 3 of course, had a number of variations, but it was always a Bible quiz question. We had a lot of Bible quizzes at church and my mother liked me to win. If I knew the answer she asked me another, if I didn't she got cross, but luckily not for long, because we had to listen to the World Service. It was always the same; we sat down on either side of the radiogram, she with her tea, me with a pad and pencil; in front of us, the Missionary Map. The faraway voice in the middle of the set gave news of activities, converts and problems. At the end there was an appeal for YOUR PRAYERS. I had to write it all down so that my mother could deliver her church report that night. She was the Missionary Secretary. The Missionary Report was a great trial to me because our mid-day meal depended upon it. If it went well, no deaths and lots of converts, my mother cooked a joint. If the Godless had proved not only stubborn, but murderous, my mother spent the rest of the morning listening to the Jim Reeves Devotional Selection, and we had to have boiled eggs and toast soldiers. Her husband was an easy-going man, but I knew it depressed him. He would have cooked it himself but for my mother's complete conviction that she was the only person in our house who would tell a saucepan from a piano. She was wrong, as far as we were concerned, but right as far as she was concerned, and really, that's what mattered.

Somehow we got through those mornings, and in the afternoon she and I took the dog for a walk, while my father cleaned all the shoes. 'You can tell someone by their shoes.' My mother said. 'Look at Next Door.'

'Drink,' said my mother grimly as we stepped out past the house. 'That's why they buy everything from Maxi Ball's Catalogue Seconds. The Devil himself is a drunk' (sometimes my mother invented theology).

Maxi Ball owned a warehouse, his clothes were cheap but they didn't last, and they smelt of industrial glue. The desperate, the careless, the poorest, vied with one another on a Saturday morning to pick up what they could, and haggle over the price. My mother would rather not eat than be seen at Maxi Ball's. She had filled me with a horror of the place. Since so many people we knew went there, it was hardly fair of her but she never was particularly fair; she loved and she hated, and she hated Maxi Ball. Once, in winter, she had been forced to go there to buy a corset and in the middle of communion, that very Sunday, a piece of whalebone slipped out and stabbed her right in the stomach. There was nothing she could do for an hour. When we got home she tore up the corset and used the whalebone as supports for our geraniums, except for one piece that she gave to me. I still have it, and whenever I'm tempted to cut corners I think about that whalebone and I know better.

My mother and I walked on towards the hill that stood at the top of our street. We lived in a town stolen from the valleys, a huddled place full of chimneys and little shops and back-to-back houses with no gardens, The hills surrounded us, and out own swept out into the Pennines, broken now and again with a farm or a relic from the war. There used to be a lot of old tanks but the council took them away. The town was a fat blot and the streets spread back from it into the green, steadily upwards. Our house was almost at the top of a long, stretchy street. A flagged street with a cobbly road. When you climb to the top of the hill and look down you can see everything, just like Jesus on the pinnacle except it's not very tempting. Over to the right was the viaduct and behind the viaduct Ellison's tenement, where we had the fair once a year. I was allowed to go there on condition I brought back a tub of black peas for my mother. Black peas look like rabbit droppings and they come in a thin gravy made of stock and gypsy mush. They taste wonderful. The gypsies made a mess and stayed up all night and my mother called them fornicators but on the whole we got on very well. They turned a blind eye to toffee apples going missing, and sometimes, if it was quiet and you didn't have enough money, they still let you have a ride on the dodgems. We used to have fights round the caravans, the ones like me, from the street, against the posh ones from the Avenue. The posh ones went to Brownies and didn't stay for school dinners.

Once, when I was collecting the black peas, about to go home, the old woman got hold of my hand. I thought she was going to bite me. She looked at my palm and laughed a bit. 'You'll never marry,' she said, 'not you, and you'll never be still.' She didn't take any money for the peas, and she told me to run home fast. I ran and ran, trying to understand what she meant. I hadn't thought about getting married anyway. There were two women I knew who didn't have any husbands at all; they were old though, as old as my mother. They ran the paper shop and sometimes, on a Wednesday, they gave me a banana bar with my comic. I liked them a lot, and talked about them a lot to my mother. One day they asked me if I'd like to go to the seaside with them. I ran home, gabbled it out, and was busy emptying my money box to buy a new spade, when my mother said firmly and forever, no. I couldn't understand why not, and she wouldn't explain. She didn't even let me go back to say I couldn't. Then she cancelled my comic and told me to collect it from another shop, further away. I was sorry about that. I never got a banana bar form Grimsby's. A couple of weeks later I heard her telling Mrs White about it. She said they dealt in unnatural passions. I thought she meant they put chemicals in their sweets.

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Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 63 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think that it's going a bit far to call it a 'lesbian classic', since, to my way of thinking, the coming-out aspect of things is purely coincidental. I think much of the problem lies with the character of Melanie. If you're to be put through all that, exorcisms and ghastly mother and more or less be exiled, your lover should at least be worthwhile. The only thing I can remember about her (and even this might not be right) is that she had grey eyes. So much for the Muse! Not a lot happened, and I admit to being rather disappointed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This first novel by Jeanette Winterson is a brilliant piece of prose that aches with the emotions of the characters. The humour is probably not for everyone. The struggle with sexuality in the novel is one that any gay person and many straight people could probably relate to as well. Winterson is a writer who in one sentence can make you laugh out loud and the next sentence can make you cry. Interesting use of fairy tales in this novel and their relation to common place, modern situations. She is a moderm day master of literature and I think it is well worth meeting her work through this novel and reading them in chronological order. I have read them all and there is a progressive feeling to them. The prose is gorgeous and all you need do is suspend a completely pragmatic mindset and allow her writing to take you on a philosophical journey.
Big_Bang_Gorilla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Being a coming-of-age novel in which a Lancashire girl struggles to emerge intact from her life with her religiously tetched mother. Mom is one of the great characters in literature, and her craziness contributes considerable unpredictability and a touch of menace to the goings-on. The author is a thoughtful wit and every paragraph contains the potential for an insight into the human condition which may well be amusing in the bargain, surely a sign of a very good novel. If one wanted to quibble a bit, the author includes some interstitial faux-fables, fairy tales. and legends which, although evocative enough, rarely seemed to contribute much to the story or the larger points she was attempting to make.
autumnesf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well written story about an adopted girl in a fanatical Christian home that decides she is gay. The story flowed really well but its just not my kind of book.
Arctic-Stranger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I will admit that I only skimmed it, but I never felt I HAD to sit down and give it a lot of time. Take a dab of Sons and Lovers, throw in some Emma with a sexual twist, and some damn fine writing. I think this is the book she had to write to get to the really great books she had in her.
tandah on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read this straight after finishing 'Why be happy when you could be normal'. I read it as a memoir, not fiction - having read the official memoir, little surprised 'Oranges' is classified as fiction, perhaps better described as a fictional used account. Detail! Anyway, a beautifully written coming of age story set largely in early 70's in hard environment of post-industrial Britain. Mother is religious zealot, possibly smothering her own sexual demons as she attempts to squash her daughters. Father barely rates a mention, but I'm a bit cross he didn't step up and intervene - he was the adult in the house. At times very funny, interspersed with Arthurian parables, insightful and often profound. I really enjoyed reading this story and really do think it's aCn excellent company for her much later written memoir.
beentsy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a beautiful book. The voice of the author growing up is amazing and so clear. Another plus, there are some amazingly funny bits too. Great book.
whitewavedarling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a simple story that didn't particularly draw me in. The point seemed more to explore feminist ideas than to tell a story, and it came across as varying between being far too simple and far too heavyhanded in the messages the author wanted to get across. It's a quick read, and not bad, but there's not much here to draw me into recommending it. I'd say that if the story sounds interesting, read the first few chapters--you should know by then whether or not this one's for you, but it's definately one that's more a matter of taste and ideal than what's actually accumulated in the story itself.
Zommbie1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read for school and gah...If I had been reading it for me I wouldn't have finished it. I don't really do post-modern literature. Honestly to many segue ways into god knows what. Not to mention the religiousness and well. Really I couldn't stand it. And now I have to figure out what the theme of the book is for class. This should be fun...NOT.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A book that needs to be read more than once. The story is of an adopted girl raised in a conservative Christian home who becomes an adult unable to adhere to the morality with which she was raised.
janeajones on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found ORANGES funny, moving, intriguing. I love myth and fairytales so that aspect of the book was delightful. I was surprised by the really genuine love and affection among the community of women, their quirkiness, and even their individuality. I had expected a tale of a childhood of oppression and stricture and instead found one of a rather quirky charm -- until the horror of "deviant" sexuality arose.In addition to Winterson's interweaving of Biblical and fairytale motifs, I was particularly interested in her use of Arthurian motifs. In checking her bio on her website, she states that one of the six books in the house in which she grew up was Malory's Morte Darthur. Of course, it's Perceval and the Grail Quest that pops up in her book, but she twists it in an interesting way. She does realize that it is the Grail quest that caused the disintegration of Camelot, and she seems to parallel her own quest with that of Perceval's -- so her childhood community is a kind of Camelot.....In the Deuteronomy chapter -- I found the last two pages contrasting history and story , the collector of curios and the curious fairly revealing, if a bit jumbled.The book has all the joys and perils of not only a coming-of-age story, but a true Kunstlerroman -- the artist is emerging.
Sovranty on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A story focusing on two strong, female characters. One is fanatically versed in what she believes to be the right path in life, bowing to no other forces, perceiving an open mind as one being lost. The other seems to float in and around, absorbing, experiencing, and determining with the same head-strong nature the right path. The two paths, mother's and daughter's, are opposing and contradictory. An interesting read. The style takes some adjusting.
holly.claxton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was an interesting book, definitely worth reading.
michaelbartley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
a intresting book I got lost at times in the story but overall excellent book. I would have liked for her to talk something about her farther.
oldstick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An engaging story, woven with humour, where the author is ever present, but with a slightly disappointing ending.
sumariotter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not a huge fan of Jeanette Winterson but I did like this book. I liked the book but I LOVED the movie...a BBC production I think. One of the rare occasions when I like the movie more than the book.
MeditationesMartini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
At first this seems a bit inconsequential, charming at best and twee at worst, and you don't so much expect the gay coming-of-age story that's the novel's big claim to fame to catapult it into the stratosphere. It feels like the kind of novel that would make a good BBC serial (which, ipso facto, it did).

But that faint praise is hardly the whole story, as Oranges becomes by turn a work of anthropological realism about the depressed North and the fading evangelical England, and about the heroine (for such a quiet story, it says a lot that that's the appropriate term rather than just "protagonist") and her attempts to make sense of the church that expects great things of her (the "Society of the Lost"), the loving but strident and cruel and utterly unchangeable mother, and the Winterson-figure's self-reliance in the face of adversity as she discovers her burgeoning, not sexuality so much, but self. It's a self-reliance that she was granted by the God she no longer believes in--by the utter certainty that leaves its vestiges, like the oranges that pop up fruitfully in this book at the weirdest times, even when she's lost her religious life. Even when you turn away from something, the you that didn't turn away walks alongside you all the days of your life, as she notes, and in that sense the unlikeliest but undeniable touchstone for this is Edmund Gosse's Father and Son, similarly about stepping from an anachronism of invisible Truth into a full-colour world of clashing experiences, and then realizing that all you want to do is talk about how it was in that intimate infinite you can no longer visit.

And so, also, about the pain of growing up, and the wrongness of being able to deny that you're different and hang on to who you were. The so so characteristic fantasy allegories--Sir Perceval trying to reclaim dead Camelot, a quest for the old light and life that's now pathological. Winnet, the wandering girl, who is taken in and then cast out by a sorcerer and uses the magic he taught to be something he never dreamed of. The Prince who ruins the perfect in search of the flawless, breaching the skins of his advisors and his wise love and his magic talking goose and bathing the world in gore, a crimson flawlessness that's all bloody flaw. I will remember these.

The title--not just a silly pun; you don't need to stay, because there are other (strange) fruit to be tasted; you don't need to go, because those fruit aren't the only fruit either. You don't have to be what you have to be.

This sober thought, which strikes me as the hard ball of ruling truth that Winterson has delved into her past to find: "I miss God. I miss the company of someone utterly loyal. I still don't think of God as my betrayer. The servants of God, yes, but servants by their very nature betray. I miss God who was my friend. I don't even know if God exists, but I know that if God is your emotional role model, very few human relationships will match up to it. I have an idea that one day it might be possible. I thought once it had become possible, and that glimpse has set me wandering, trying to find the balance between earth and sky. If the servants hadn't rushed in and parted us, I might have been disappointed, might have snatched off the white samite to reveal a bowl of soup. As it is, I can't settle, I want someone who is fierce and who will love me until death and know that love is as strong as death, and be on my side for ever and ever. I want someone who will destroy and be destroyed by me."

There are times when I could almost reconcile myself with religion--meaning Christian religion as practiced in our secular Western world--and then I think about the dependency it creates. The walking wounded. It's almost worse than the intolerance, because it's not just something that people indulge to the degree that their constitution lets them--not just an excuse for the worst, in other words, but something that cripples the inn

timj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beware religious zealots!
amaryann21 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book- humor, tragedy, and above all, as I found with other Winterson books, the REAL quality of the characters shine through effortlessly. There are parts of this book that I want to share with everyone I know.
rodrichards on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a refreshingly odd book about a young girl growing up in an evangelical household in England and awakening to the fact that she is a lesbian...and there are lots of interesting sidebars and fables and colorful characters and every so often you run across something like this:It is not possible to control the outside of yourself until you have mastered your breathing space. It is not possible to change anything until you understand the substance of that you wish to change. Of course people mutilate and modify, but these are fallen powers, and to change something that you do not understand is the true nature of evil.It's quirky, but recommended.
amerynth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked Jeanette Winterson's "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit" from the opening paragraph... there is great wit and heart in the story about an orphaned girl adopted by a mother who is both domineering and evangelical. This is a coming of age story for Jeanette (I assume this book is semi-autobiographical since the main character shares the author's name)as she struggles with coming to grips with her sexuality in the context of the Bible and the religion that is all-consuming in her mother's household. I very much enjoyed Winterson's writing style-- barely a page passes by where there isn't a commentary on the human condition as well as an entertaining story. Interesting story and terrific characters make this a worthwhile read.
corinneblackmer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A brilliant first book that deserves all the many prizes it has received. Jeanette, a precocious orphan, forms her early counter-identity around the missionary views of her conservative mother, who looks upon Jeannette as her piece of clay to mold into a notable missionary. Unfortunately, Jeannette happens to be a lesbian who is as skilled in bending reality to suit her needs as her mother is, but to a better cause. This comic novel uses the books of the Old Testament (the Torah) to tell the progressive stages by which Jeannette realizes her sexuality, falls in love, is separated from the object of her affections and, finally, has a lasting alienation from her adopted mother as she prepares to further broaden her intellectual horizons by attending university.
the_awesome_opossum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a semi-autobiographical story of a girl growing up in a Pentecostal church as a lesbian. Winterson tells her own story through a sparse, straightforward narrative, and interweaves fairy tales throughout for a greater depth. It's an interesting memoir(?) if you've read her other novels, but as a story on its own it's very brief and may not capture everyone's interest.
mojomomma on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An odd little book about a girl who is adopted by religious fanatic mother and discovers she is attracted to the other girls she saves and brings into the church. Her mother "outs" her for her "unnatural passions" during a church service and she leaves the church and her home.
stephenmurphy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Astounding. Spiralling feminist ecriture (of a kind) which seems to have read my sad male mind. Gripping, merciful and blissful. Shame about the (pants) introduction.