Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeannette Winterson, 1985

“It is not possible to change anything until you understand the substance you wish to change.”

I got Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit from the library after reading on Wikipedia that the author is from my mother’s hometown, Accrington. It’s a semi-autobiographical story of growing up among Evangelical Pentecostals in Accrington, Lancashire, and what happens when the author’s unconventional sexuality comes to the attention of her church.

“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.”

It sounds like a setup for a grim and bitter story, but it’s actually funny and cheerful. Winterson finds a lot of humor in the conflict between the enthusiastically religious heroine and her secular classmates, and even in the censure of her family and church. It can’t be fun to be exorcised, but it makes for a good story. The general tone is of a thoughtful, happy woman remembering a difficult girlhood with amusement.

The story takes place in the 1970s, and my familiarity with Accy begins with the mid-80s, so there were only a couple references that I recognized. At the beginning of the book, the heroine climbs what is obviously the Coppice (a nearby hill), and later someone mentions Oswaldtwistle by name. The town isn’t much of a presence in the story.

If I were to tell a story of Accrington, I’d describe the rows of stone millworker housing running up the slopes of the surrounding hills, the walk up the Coppice, and the windy moors on top. I’d have the heroine of my story sneak up into the gallery of the town’s Victorian market hall to get a closer look at the wrought iron ornamentation. Then she’d go around the corner to the vintage clothing shop on Warner St and buy three Hermes scarves for one pound each, like I did. Best vintage clothing shop ever.

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