‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ is Jeanette Winterson’s controversial debut novel first published in 1985. It is a semi-autobiographical novel: the main character is called Jeanette and her experiences of growing up in a Pentecostal household in Lancashire and exploring her sexuality are heavily drawn from the author’s own life. It is a coming-of-age story like no other.
Having read Winterson’s memoirs ‘Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?’ last month, ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ seems perhaps less shocking to me than if I had read these books the other way round even though the events are virtually the same. The novel is sensitively written but I found ‘Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?’ to be the more poignant of the two books probably because the distance of time after writing ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ made her own memoirs more personal and reflective. ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ is still thought-provoking and honest but the tone seems a lot angrier given that Winterson wrote it not long after her adolescence had ended and the memories were probably still very fresh. I was surprised by how much Winterson had drawn from her own life experiences as I was expecting the events and characters of the novel to be more disguised than they actually are in the book.
The fact that Winterson has drawn so heavily on her own life means that the characters in this novel are really brought to life and the story feels like it was written effortlessly. ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ is an engagingly written novel and is often quirky and humorous in spite of the grim setting and events. Nearly three decades after it was first published, ‘Oranges’ still stands out today for its originality and bravery.