Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester and adopted by Pentecostal parents who brought her up in the nearby mill-town of Accrington. As a Northern working class girl she was not encouraged to be clever. Her adopted father was a factory worker, her mother stayed at home. There were only six books in the house, including the Bible and Cruden’s Complete Concordance to the Old and New Testaments. Strangely, one of the other books was Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, and it was this that started her life quest of reading and writing. The house had no bathroom either, which was fortunate because it meant that Jeanette could read her books by flashlight in the outside toilet. Reading was not much approved unless it was the Bible. Her parents intended her for the missionary field. Schooling was erratic but Jeanette had got herself into a girl’s grammar school and later she read English at Oxford University. This was not an easy transition. Jeanette had left home at 16 after falling in love with another girl. While she took her A levels she lived in various places, supporting herself by evening and weekend work. In a year off to earn money, she worked as a domestic in a lunatic asylum.
Having read Oranges are not the only Fruit at college I was really looking forward to this months book choice as I did find Oranges a truly fantastic read. But – when I began to read this book I really struggled to keep my concentration. Not only was it a narration of one’s life, but it was a boring one at that. Pressing on I was determined to finish the book and I’m glad that I did. Witty, funny and depressing at times, this book was but a dip in the pool of what is Jeanette’s life and it made for a very interesting read. In some places the book seems almost hurried and could almost be written in note form – which it probably was – but I do feel that this only adds to the memoir and gives the reader a raw and open view into the life of this troubled author.
As I made my way to our meeting I was feeling quite excited as I thought that we had some juicy discussions that we could squeeze out of the novel without breaking into too much of a sweat. We had a few conflicting opinions about the book which created some really good discussions and raised some difficult questions. The humour was certainly an aspect of the book that we could all relate to as there were a good few bits that really were rib-ticklers, but the style of writing and sometimes vague descriptions (and seemingly irrelevant ramblings) did niggle a few of our readers.
On a whole this was a well received book and one thing we could all agree on was that it must have been incredibly hard for Jeanette to have written this and most certainly been difficult for her to deal with her problematic life in the 1960s. To dig her way out of the hole that was her life and become the author she is now is certainly an achievement worth talking about. It didn’t suit everyone but if you’re a fan of Jeanette’s other works then I’m sure you won’t be disappointed with this one.