Oranges are not the only Fruit

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Oranges are not the only Fruit

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Editado: Abr 30, 2010, 12:09 pm

For those not going for the spontaneous Notes from Underground reading beginning tomorrow, Jeanette Winterson's debut (this is her first novel isn't it, or am I out in left field?) is on the docket.

I plan on reading Notes pretty quick, then jumping back to this. I know very little about Winterson. Hopefully those who know her and her ouevre will enlighten us with their divine erudition.

Editado: Abr 30, 2010, 1:12 pm

I'm going to try to read both. Yes, this is Winterson's semi-autobiographical debut.

I have read three of her novels, including Oranges, but I don't think I have much guidance to offer. Oranges is less difficult, less magic-realism-y than Sexing the Cherry, not science-fiction-y like The Stone Gods. But I found it to be a great read, surprisingly funny.

Winterson likes her fairy tales and magic--the intrusion of unreality (or maybe I should say two realities?) into everyday life, the heroine on her quest. (Less so in Oranges than other books, but it's still there.) These fairy tales often appear as sort of parallel stories that connect with the main narrative. I found this technique a little wobbly in Oranges, compared to Sexing the Cherry, but nonetheless interesting. Here's an excerpt from a blog by Winterson on Legoland & fairy tales:
"The transformations at the heart of so many fairy stories – frog into prince, pumpkin into carriage, hovel into palace, mirror into lake, are reflected by the transforming nature of the stories themselves. Shifting and mercurial, they thrive on change. Yet their survival, their longevity, is not only this adaptability, it is that they offer a route to the parts of ourselves that change very slowly, if at all.
. . .
That the stories are outside of time locates them in the boundless space of the imagination. They are not boxed into olde-worlde costume drama, nor do they need dragging into the digital age. The imagination is comfortable with multiple realities, and anyway, we always imagine our hero is like ourselves. Indeed, one of the unstated lessons of fairy tales is that the hero is yourself, and can’t be anyone else. No matter how many sprites spin straw into gold, or build impressive palaces overnight for you, they will be a price to pay, and you are the one who is going to pay it. All of us understand what it feels like to be alone in a dark wood, even if we never go further than the shopping centre."

Also interesting:
Of her early experience with fundamental Christianity, Winterson says she no longer subscribes to any organized religion but that the spiritual influence in some way continues to inform her writing.

"I'm not religious, nor would I seek to be," she has said. "But I suppose it's about transcendence. It's because I am convinced of the invisible world beyond the material that I write the way I do."

...Urania? :)

Abr 30, 2010, 4:53 pm

Just finished "Genesis." I've read Sexing the Cherry and The Passion. I think Winterson is a gifted writer. This, too, is wonderfully written. I like the indirect way she will make a point by mentioning some details or events that, put together, allow you to make the proper inference. A show, don't tell kind, of thing. Is it also a scriptural kind of thing?

Maio 1, 2010, 11:11 am

I'll try. I have failed miserably in all my attempts at participating in group reads. But I would like to talk about both of these. Maybe....(next time, I'll be lucky....maybe next time I'll the immortal words of Liza Minelli).

Editado: Maio 4, 2010, 2:14 am

I have read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit several times but not recently, so I need to reread to refresh my memory. Two things do stand out for me.

1. The titles of the chapters – each named after a book in the Bible. The first five books – the Pentateuch – concern ethical behavior and lay out the laws of behavior. In Winterson's novel "Deuteromony" is the shortest of all the chapters. Does anyone have ideas about this? I am inclined to think Winterson has simply run of out material here but wishes to conserve the structure. I would be interested to hear what others think.

2. Winterson entitles the final chapter "Ruth." Given the narrator's complicated relationship with her mother, the last chapter heading strikes me as interesting in light of Ruth's words in verses 16-17: (16) Ruth said , Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest , I will go ; and where thou lodgest , I will lodge : thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: (17) Where thou diest , will I die , and there will I be buried : the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. Any ideas? Is the Ruth to whom Winterson refers her mother? (P.S. For those wishing to compare translations of this passage this site is useful.)

3. For me the most important passage in the novel is as follows:

In those days, magic was very important, and territory, to start with, just an extension of the chalk circle you drew around yourself to protect yourself from elementals and the like. It's gone out of fashion now, which is a shame, because sitting in a chalk circle . . . is a lot better than sitting in the gas oven. Of course people will laugh at you, but people laugh at a great many things, so there's no need to take it personally. Why will it work? It works because the principle of personal space is always the same, whether you're fending off an elemental or someone's bad mood. . . .

The training of wizards is a very difficult thing. Wizards have to spend years standing in a chalk circle until they can manage without it. They push out their power bit by bit, first within their hearts, then within their bodies, then within their immediate circle. 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 you wish to change. Of course people mutilate and modify, but these are fallen powers, and to change something you do not understand is the true nature of evil.

The section in bold is a paraphrase of someone else's work, but I don't remember the author's name. Help?

I won't offer my comments about this passage because it might be a spoiler, but I do offer it to you it up for debate.

"I suppose it's about transcendence. It's because I am convinced of the invisible world beyond the material that I write the way I do."

Meddie, does this quotation shed any light on your comment in post 2?

Editado: Maio 5, 2010, 5:12 pm

I am not that far yet, which is not a comment on the book which I love so far, just been really busy.

Regarding Deuteronomy: From Wikipedia - The central theme of Deuteronomy 8 is an exhortation to Israel to not forget YHWH when they have taken possession of the 'promised land.' Craigie comments on the frequency of remembering and forgetting language in the chapter.In the opening verses Moses reminds the Israelites of YHWH's miraculous provision during their years wandering in the Wilderness. Then in the midst of an extravagant description of the promised land, there is the reminder to not forget YHWH during times of prosperity. As Brueggemann observes "Israel does not have many resources with which to resist temptation. Their chief one is memory. At the boundary of the 'promised land,' Israel is urged to remember."

That seems to be a possible reference point for Winterson who starts the chapter "Time is a great deadener. People forget, get bored, grow old, go away" and continues on to discuss history and forgetting. It is possibly appropriate for a chapter concerned with forgetting to be a short one.

Maio 5, 2010, 4:43 pm

Not really what you were looking for but I found them interesting:

ignoti nulla curatio morbi - you can't cure what you don't understand

ignoti nulla cupido - there is no desire for that which is unknown; our wants are increased by knowledge

Maio 5, 2010, 5:35 pm

However, Deuteronomy itself is not a short book. It recapsand in places expands upon the social laws of the preceding three books. Some people believe this book was actually written during or just after the Nehemiahn restoration, some six hundred years or more later. After all, it was found in a jar at the site of Solomon's Temple according, I believe, to Ezra. He was Nehemiah's chronicler, was he not?

One of my favorite quotes from the Book of Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 27:19

" 'Cursed be he who violates the rights of the alien, the orphan or the widow!' And all the people shall answer, 'Amen!' "

There is no distinction between legal and illegal. It is not a request, it is not an admonition, it is not a suggestion, it is not meant as a guide. It's a fucking CURSE, for God's sake. A curse that everyone is required to know, understand, and assent to.

I wonder what the Christianist right thinks about THAT!

Maio 6, 2010, 11:55 pm

I finished reading Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit a few days ago. It was the first I had read or heard of Winterson and I liked it. It made me want to read more of what she had written, especially as she wrote that so young. As Urania said I felt the fairytale part was a bit awkward - it didn't work for me as a ploy to deepen the reality of the actual - instead I found myself wanting to get back to the realistic parts. That was written very well. The really odd part was when she went back to her home, and how that went.

Maio 7, 2010, 1:09 am

>9 solla:
Perhaps you are confusing me with another poster. I do like the Winterson's use of fairytales and myths. I also find her use of religious stories interesting. I do, however, find the the last chapter quixotic . . . perhaps. Thomas Wolfe once wrote, "You can't go home again." In Winterson's novel, the narrator indicates that ultimately one cannot stay away from home, that we are always going home, to paraphrase Ursula Le Guin. The last sentence of the quotation I cited in post 5 can cut both ways. The mother's attempts to change her daughter's sexual orientation is an example of trying "to change something she does not understand." Likewise, the narrator has to come to come to an understanding of her mother . . . a mature understanding . . . before she can return home. Of course, it appears that the mother's religious proclivities will not change, but perhaps the narrator's relationship with her mother can change because she has had time to reflect upon it, to put distance and time between her mother and herself.

And on a final note, perhaps the narrator is not so different from her mother. In Genesis, Eve (and then Adam) eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . . not a bad thing if you ask me although one must be careful what one defines as good or evil. This myth is a foundational one for Christianity. Like Eve, the narrator eats the fruit (in this case the orange) of the knowledge of differences in sexual orientation, she is cast from her home, and her life changes as a result of her knowledge. Oranges are not the only fruit. Perhaps one cannot compare apples and oranges, but then again perhaps one can.

Maio 7, 2010, 9:38 pm

#10 Yes, you are right. It was Medellia who said that she found the use of fairytales more wobbly in Orange than in other novels by Winterson. Generally, I too, like the use of fairytales and myths, and I didn't dislike it here, it was only that I found myself hurrying through the fairytale sections to get back to the other.

Maio 7, 2010, 11:54 pm

Great stuff everbody. Post 2 and 5 are exceedingly helpful, no? And great seeing you, Solla! I've missed your fine company!

Editado: Maio 10, 2010, 5:07 pm

I'll throw this comment out for debate. I've taught Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit several times. The novel works well as a bildungsroman about sexuality. It also takes up issues of religion (useful when one lives in the southern part of the United States). While I find the book amusing and while I do like the fact that it addresses the interconnections between coming of age, sexuality, and religion, I would not categorize this book as a particularly profound one. Any comments?

That said, I would still give this book four stars . . . 3.97 . . . if LT allowed us such distinctions simply because I could not stop laughing as I read.

P.S. Any thoughts about the book of Ruth?

Maio 10, 2010, 7:00 pm

Urania, you're wonderful. Thanks for all the info.

While I find the book amusing and while I do like the fact that it addresses the interconnections between coming of age, sexuality, and religion, I would not categorize this book as a particularly profound one.

I really do plan to reread this & try to be more active on the thread before the month is up, but today I was put on a jury for a trial that is supposed to last 3 weeks. So I will just do my best.

Maio 10, 2010, 7:04 pm

I should be getting a copy in the mail any day -- I'm not quite sure how I missed reading this earlier.

Maio 10, 2010, 11:23 pm

13: I agree on both counts. But beautiful writing and a provocative coming of age story are valuable. I also enjoy the portraits of the various women in the Pratt church. Four stars is what I would rate it too.

14: Uh, doesn't that mean MORE not LESS time to read?

Maio 11, 2010, 7:07 am

#16: :) You know, they frown on jurors reading when you're supposed to be listening to testimony & all that. I better behave, don't wanna fall any farther into a Kafka novel, eh?

Maio 11, 2010, 9:03 am



I was wondering about my life and where the hell I am. Now I know. I AM IN A KAFKA NOVEL.

I don't seem to have tentacles so it's not the Metamorphosis. The Trial. That must be it. Little Becketian, too.

And since I have been claiming for some time, to the consternation of some, that Kafka is uproariously funny, I'd better start laughing.

Where are those men with the straightjackets????

Maio 11, 2010, 7:00 pm

#18: There's a fun David Foster Wallace essay on the subject of how "it is next to impossible to get (DFW's college students) to see that Kafka is funny." Have you read it?

Maio 11, 2010, 7:38 pm

Wow, I wonder what it was like to have him as an English prof.

Maio 12, 2010, 2:12 pm

19> great essay! Just what I needed as I embark on presenting "The Hunger Artist" to sophomores, but it's an interesting class with 2 Brazilians, a Kazakh and a French student -- wonder how they'll take it.

Maio 12, 2010, 11:54 pm

#13 Urania, I think I agree that the book wasn't greatly profound. It was however very vivid in its depiction of her very distinctive life.

Editado: Maio 14, 2010, 6:26 pm

I really like the way Winterson writes and thinks. Both those factors elevate her books (that I've read) above other lit that might end up classified as magical realism.

The parts of the book that don't work as well as they ought seem like they are the result of something intensely meaningful personally to Winterson (this being semi-autobiographical) but that she fails to get across to us as well as she might. That's a problem in a lot of poetry too. Also, the book feels like it should've sprawled a bit. (Then again I don't think Winterson is a sprawler - But I wish she was!) The end seemed especially rushed.

I liked most the easy and realistic dialogue - especially when it inolved talking positively about negative business - I'm thinking most of Mrs. Arkwright the proprietor of the pest extermination supply business.

I liked the chalk circle/personal space passage excerpted above in message 5. Now that I see it mentioned with Mrs. Arkwright - I sense a connection between chalk and insecticide that's not very favorable to people at large!

I also liked the priest/prophet passage: 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.

That dovetails nicely with the protagonist's journey and the side story about the wizard.

13: I would teach Oranges for a writing class. And, you are right on about the religious element but it is probably disappointing for a gender or lesbian studies class.

Editado: Maio 20, 2010, 7:18 pm

Just finished Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Some first thoughts -- I found it 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 eccentricities, and even their individuality. I had a 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.....

Re 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.

Editado: Maio 21, 2010, 1:29 pm

Great observation re: Morte d'Arthur's siginificance to young Jeanette the author and its correspondence to the events in the novel!

I totally agree with your observations about the portrayal of the community of women which is lively and sympathetic despite their betrayal of young Jeanette.

I keep forgetting to mention that whelks are snails and I did not know that. Is there anything suggestive about those noble snails in brine and their appearance in the scene with Melanie? Oranges is the second novel I've read in the last few years that has featured a snail passage. Cf. Maldoror's "beware the monstrous snail of idiocy" (or something to that effect.)

Editado: Maio 22, 2010, 10:31 am

Don't know about the snails, but I also found the Jane Eyre reference funny and telling -- that her mother would read and reread the novel to Jeanette -- but changed the ending to have Jane marry St. John Rivers.

Maio 22, 2010, 10:47 am

I did get around to rereading this. Fit it in during subway rides and courtroom breaks. It's an easy and pleasant read, so I encourage anybody who has been thinking about joining in to do so--"you can do it."

I also loved the Jane Eyre references. The first time I read this, I hadn't read Jane Eyre, so those whizzed over my head. I laughed so hard at her mother's rewriting of the ending that I received a lot of curious stares from my fellow jurors.

While I enjoyed it, I had the same experience this time as last time regarding the "mythical" passages. The first time one popped up, it was an abrupt shift, and I felt a little disoriented. But I came around, being a fan of fairy tales and myth and so forth, and I liked the way they mirrored and deepened the narrative. But toward the end of the book, I was really impatient with the Arthurian interjections, and I outright groaned when I reached the last one. This may have more to do with the fact that I like Arthurian legend way less than I like other sorts of fairy- and folk-tales.

From the very first page, I loved the description of her mother:

"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 so forth. I know a lot of people who have never heard of mixed feelings. :)

Maio 22, 2010, 10:59 am

I also hadn't remembered the structure as being so cyclical. (Four pages from the end, making it explicit, "I seem to have run in a great circle, and met myself again on the starting line.") Both of Winterson's other novels that I've read dealt with cyclical structures (Sexing the Cherry, and to an even greater extent, The Stone Gods). This really appeals to me, and in my own creative work, I also deal in great part with cyclical structures.

I feel the world in a cyclical way, and some small voice in the back of my head suggests that this is the way the universe works, even if we don't think so. It's not a particularly rational notion, and Winterson is not a particularly rational writer, at root. I like that. I like her irrational sense of the invisible. As slick says in #23, I like the way Winterson writes & thinks. (Somebody needs to drag zenomax into this group read. I feel like he would dig Winterson.)

Thinking of the chalk circle against these cyclical structures makes a nice ping in my head.

OK, more later.

Maio 22, 2010, 12:02 pm

When I was a kid living in Green Cove Springs, Florida, I would fish, sometimes, in the St. Johns River.

Maio 26, 2010, 10:04 am

Continuing to think about the book, I think another strength is this. Due to her somewhat isolated upbringing, we can appreciate the raw materials from which she -somewhat heroically - forged her identity. It sets her story apart from the rest of us who less heroically forge our identities from other ready-made and pre-fabricated materials. That got me thinking about how forging your identity is really a life-long process. The material fails before the project is ever completed. Whch is an argument against any eternal reward or punishment in an after-life.

Maio 26, 2010, 7:22 pm

Nicely put slick. Meddy, I loved your reference to the cyclical nature of the book. I had not noticed that pattern before although it is usually a structure for which I am alert.

Editado: Mar 12, 2012, 3:35 pm

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is British writer Jeanette Winterson's memoir about her rough childhood and her effort to make peace with it. Her often cruel and clearly disturbed adoptive mother looms with ghoulish force over the story, and the fact that as a teenager Winterson came out as a lesbian in her Pentecostal community fans the flames of her persecution.

But that's just half the tale. The other half, the most important part, is about a woman who was saved by books.

Read the rest here -

Mar 12, 2012, 4:46 pm

Beautiful quote, "Nobody can feel too much, though many of us work very hard at feeling too little." Thanks for finding it Slick.