Friday, 2 March 2012

Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

I have been enjoying Jeanette Winterson’s books for half my life now, but have somehow not got around to reading Oranges are not the Only Fruit, her award winning debut and arguably her most famous book.

Based very loosely on the author’s upbringing in Accrington, the book follows the childhood and adolescence of Jeanette, a young woman adopted as a baby by a couple who are stalwart members of the local Pentecostal church. Jeanette’s mother takes her religion very seriously, and is quick to point out the wrongs of others. Especially those living next door:

“Drink,” said my mother grimly as we stepped out past their house. “That’s why they buy everything from Maxi Ball’s Catalogue Seconds. The Devil himself is a drunk” (sometimes my mother invented theology).

Even so, despite holding forth on the evils of booze, Jeanette’s mother is no stranger to licensed premises:

During the first year my mother had gone into all the pubs and clubs urging the
drunkards to join her at church. She used to sit at the piano and sing Have You Any Room for Jesus? It was very moving, she said. The men cried into their tankards and stopped playing snooker while she sang. She was plump and pretty and they called her the Jesus Belle.

Problems start to appear in this regimented lifestyle when Jeanette is forced to go to school (a breeding ground) and as she becomes older, realises that she has fallen in love with another girl called Melanie. She urges Melanie to come along to the church. It’s a special occasion; a visit from Pastor Finch who has turned up in a Bedford van decorated with damned sinners on one side and saved souls on the other, and HEAVEN OR HELL? IT’S YOUR CHOICE painted across the bonnet:

After we had all admired the bus for long enough, Pastor Finch led us back into the church and asked his choir to sing his latest composition. “It came to me from the Lord, just as I left Sandbach Motorway Services.” The song was called You Don’t Need Spirits When You’ve Got The Spirit. The first verse went like this...

‘Some men turn to whisky, some women turn to gin,
But there ain’t no better rapture than drinking the spirit in.
Some men like their beer, others like their wine,
But open your mouth to the Spirit, if you want to feel fine.’

The choir sang this and the rest of the verses, six in all, and we had a sheet to join in the chorus, which was accompanied by Pastor Finch on the bongos. The chorus went like this...

‘Not whisky rye not gin and dry not rum and coke for me,
Not brandy fizz but a Spiritual whizz puts the fire in me.’

Melanie stays, despite the peculiar nature of the service, and Jeanette’s love for her blossoms into an affair that sees her exorcised and finally forced to leave home and church.

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