Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

by Jeanette Winterson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802135162
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 08/20/1997
Series: Fiction Series
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 125,907
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 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 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.
JediJane on LibraryThing 2 days ago
An absolute classic - made me fall in love with the writing of Winterson and opened me up to a whole world of post-modern fiction that I didn't even know existed as a 19 year old. After reading some of the comments below, I would add that Oranges is generally considered to be semi-autoboigraphical, but stil Fiction. The BBC drama, which starred the outstanding talent of Charlotte Coleman, caused a huge stir when it was televised on BBC2 in 1990.
thorold on LibraryThing 2 days ago
Books that have a big impact the first time you read them are sometimes difficult to return to: Oranges isn't like that. Rereading it for the fourth or fifth time in 25 years, it still impresses me with its strength, originality and wit. Of course, having read more and lived longer in the meantime, I can spot things here and there that don't really work, or are obviously borrowed. Having seen a re-run of Winterson's own TV adaptation recently, it's also obvious that there were points where the tighter plotting and more economical use of characters forced by TV led to significant improvements. But still, it's all aged remarkably well.Having grown up in the same part of the world as Winterson, at much the same time (although in a slightly less extreme church), there's a lot I recognise in the people and their way of looking at the world. In particular, I remember that sense of a community run by and for strong, single-minded women, in which men (with a few honorary exceptions like ministers and doctors) existed as vague grey presences seen occasionally at breakfast and tea. Of course, that's also typical of a child's view of the world: Mothers are fearless in the fight against dirt, ungodliness, and nasty foreign notions; fathers are away at work. Winterson pushes this a bit further by bringing in the element of religious certainty. This is something you usually only see represented from the outside in literature (the obstinate, righteous parent and the liberal, doubting narrator), but here the narrator has the same rock-hard conviction of the rightness of her ideas and feelings as the mother does of her own. It's the irresistible force and the immovable object. Of course, the problem with this is that the toughness of her narrator rather undermines the argument Winterson seems to be putting forward about the destructive nature of the quest for perfection here on earth. Perhaps this is why the interposed narratives in mythical or fairy-tale style take over more and more of the story as we move towards the end: the narrator is an epic figure who can't be allowed to exhibit guilt or self-doubt, but her struggle has to be made interesting enough for the reader to persist with it.
ahalliday1949 on LibraryThing 2 days ago
I heard Jeanette Winterson speaking about this book on the radio a few weeks ago and thought that I had read it but did not recognise it as she described it so decided to read it. I had read it before and hated it then and hated it now. I find it hard to decide what I hate about it but probably it's the fact that the characters are largely surreal and/or unlikeable. Anyway I won't be fooled into trying again.
slickdpdx on LibraryThing 2 days ago
The priest has a book with the words set out. Old words, known words, words of power. Words that are always on the surface. Words for every occasion. The words work. They do what they're supposed to do; comfort and discipline. The prophet has no book. The prophet is a voice that cries in the wilderness, full of sounds that do not always set into meaning. The prophets cry out because they are troubled by demons. Vintage 1991 ed. p 156Winterson is a prophet.
hazelk on LibraryThing 2 days ago
I looked forward to reading Winterson's first novel that made the author quite famous but somehow I was disappointed.It wouldn't have helped that I remember the BBC dramatisation of the 90s and Geraldine McEwan's memorable performance of the narrator's mother with her religious excess and obsession. I kept seeing this in my mind's eye instead of focusing more on the prose I was reading.I got irritated by the intermittent storytelling sequences of princes and princesses etc, the products of the young narrator's imagination which just made me want to skip pages and I did.The intermittent humour was good and so were the hypocrosies as they emerged but on the whole I was glad the novel was quite short.__________________
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
By far the worst book i have ever read. Poorly written. A waste of money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The mix of stories was simply uninteresting.
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I didn't mind the way it was narrated nor the stories splashed through the book. But I kept waiting for something meaningful to happen and it didn't, which was sad. Also, the ending was disappointing.
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This is an amazingly wonferful book. I love the story and the way it is written.
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