I probably already mentioned in five other posts how I bought Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? by complete accident and absolutely fell in love with this book. A logical consequence of that had to be reading Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. It took me almost two years but finally I made the step.
It is, of course, a fictionalized account of Winterson’s childhood and the events that lead her to leave home, not on her own free will exactly, but nonetheless. As much as I loved Why Be Happy… I could not completely engage with Oranges when I think of it now, a month after finishing the book, I think the problem may be exactly the word fictionalized, after heartbreakingly true and honest Why Be Happy…, Oranges just didn’t sound so authentic. I know that was not the purpose, it is a work of fiction in the end, but somehow the emotions didn’t ring true all the time. That being said, there is still a lot of things I liked about the book, my favorite probably is Winterson’s sense of irony and her mastery in using the absurd with a completely straight face. She is a very sharp observer and knows how to relate her observations.
When you think of it the history we are being told in Oranges is so absurd it’s almost funny, or it would be funny if not for the fact that some of it actually happened. Winterson shows how oppressive society is, how the small community has no qualms about pushing out the people it recognizes as different, how there is warmth in a community like this but also a constant threat of ostracism. How being closed in this small world makes one afraid of leaving it, because the unknown is always scary, and how at some point we can either succumb or fight for what we think is right, but also how none of those choices is a one-off decision, how we constantly have to make those decisions over and over again and every time we can select differently. There is both hope and warning in that.
I am thinking that maybe I read this book a little too late, because another thing that I could feel very strongly was the fact that the book is written by a young person, not that I think of myself as old, but from time to time I have to acknowledge that I am no longer in my twenties. Winterson clearly was and it is visible in the book, which at times felt a bit pretentious, which I probably would not say if I was younger, because I remember I perceived the world in a similar way back then, but now…yes, it does feel a little pretentious. I mean mostly the metaphorical tale Winterson weaves in parallel with the story, The Grail Legend, a tale of knights, sorcerers and magic. I guess at my age I prefer the hard realism of Why Be Happy…
Now the next logical step would be to watch the BBC miniseries. Has any of you seen it? Did you like it?
Quotes from Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska