Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

I love Jeanette Winterson. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is often seen as her most definitive book. In fact, it’s often seen as one of the most definitive books of the 80s. It one her a Whitbread Award in 1985, and is now studied in literature classes around the world. Oranges was one of the books involved in the recent Amazon Fail debacle. Why? Because in this book, the protagonist is a lesbian. Winterson doesn’t call her book lesbian fiction, though. And I would say myself that this book is hardly at all about the sexuality of the character. It’s about the spirituality instead.

Oranges is often also categorized as Winterson’s memoir, since the character has her name and their lives have certain similarities. Winterson addresses this herself in the introduction: “Is Oranges an autobiographical novel? No not at all and yes of course.”

This book is rich with things that I am going to have to go back and figure out for myself. There were so many levels to Oranges, that I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface, done a once over on the plot. I can understand why this would be studied in a literature class because there is simply so much material. Material that’s difficult to digest in a casual read. That being said, I still found Oranges to be enchanting and poetic, like everything I’ve read by Winterson. And on top of that, it seemed a lot more philosophical than her other ones.

Oranges isn’t my favourite Jeanette Winterson book. That place was won long ago by Weight and can only be challenged by the likes of Sexing the Cherry. But Oranges was Winterson’s first book, and I can see that clearly while reading it. It’s the place from which all of her other books stem. Where all the stories and ideas start. Where she starts to develop her unique style.

To pick just a few quotes to share was very difficult. Like I said, the book is heavy with thoughts and ideas, and I seemed to tag most of them, some to share with you and others simply so that I would remember to go back and read it over a few times, think about it.

“There was a woman in our street who told us all she had married a pig. I asked her why she did it, and she said ‘You never know until it’s too late.’ Exactly. No doubt the woman had discovered in life what I had discovered in my dreams. She had unwittingly married a pig.”

“Time is a great deadener. People forget, get bored, grow old, go away. There was a time in England when everyone was much concerned with building wooden boats and sailing off against the Turk. When that stopped being interesting, what peasants were left limped back to the land, and what nobles there were left plotted against each other. Of course that is not the whole story, but that is the way with stories; we make of them what we will.”

“People like to separate storytelling which is not fact from history which is fact. They do this so that they know what to believe and what not to believe. This is very curious. How is it that no one will believe that the whale swallowed Jonah when every day Jonah is swallowing the whale? I can see them now, stuffing down the fishiest of fish tales, and why? Because it is history. Knowing what to believe had its advantages. It built an empire and kept people where they belonged, in the bright realm of the wallet…”

“Uncertainty to me was like Aardvark to other people. A curious thing I had no notion of, but recognized through second-hand illustration.”

“Walls protect and walls limit. It is the nature of walls that they should fall. That walls should fall is the c0nsequence of blowing your own trumpet.”

“The hall is empty. Soon the enemy will come. There was a stone that held a bright sword and no one could pull the sword because their minds were fixed on the stone. Arthur sits on the wide steps. The Round Table is decorated wit every plant that grows growing circular-wise like a target. Near the centre is a sundial and at the centre a thorny crown. Dusty now, but all things turn to dust.”

“The unknowness 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. If you want to find out the circumference of an oil drop, you can use lycopodium powder. That’s what I’ll find. A tub of lycopodium powder, and I will sprinkle it on to my needs and find out how large they are.”

To grasp the full scope of Oranges, or at least to begin to work towards such, I suggest you read it. I would definitely say that it is one of those modern classics.


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