Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) is the story of Jeanette, adopted by evangelists and brought up by her mother as one of God’s elect. Zealous and passionate, she seems destined for life as a missionary, but then she falls for one of her converts. Her mother’s group of religious friends subject her and her partner to exorcisms.
At sixteen, Jeanette decides to leave the church, her home and her family, for the young woman she loves.
In Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal (2011), a sort of thesis to the novel, Winterson recounts the time after Oranges was published when she arranged to phone her mother in a phone box in Accrington and her mother confronted her about using her own name in the novel – ‘if it is a story, why is the main character called Jeanette?’
Winterson explains it was about survival. ‘Adopted children are self-invented because we have to be; there is an absence, a void, a question mark at the very beginning of our lives. A crucial part of our story is gone, and violently, like a bomb in the womb…adoption drops you into the story after it has started.’
In order to get out, to survive, to live, to write, Winterson had to as she says, be able to tell her own story. To tell her own version of what happened in a terraced house in Lancashire.
For her, ‘Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines. What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination. I had been damaged and a very important part of me had been destroyed – that was my reality, the facts of my life; but on the other side of the facts was who I could be, how I could feel, and as long as I had words for that, images for the stories, then I wasn’t lost.’
An important book in the care experienced world, a book full of words put together in a unique and extraordinary way. A book of yearning, of love and how sometimes you have to leave your home, your family, in order to be yourself.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, first published by Pandora Press in 1985.