There is a rather unpleasant and quite depressing trend in works that are classified as ‘literature’. Many of them are rather upsetting and unsettling. I suppose that’s what makes it literature as opposed to a popular work. It has the ability to hit you on a deeper level which you don’t entirely understand. There’s a lot going on below the surface, basically.
I had to read this book for my Literature class at Uni and to be honest; I really wasn’t looking forward to it. The two books we had studied previously (Heart Of Darkness and Disgrace) had dealt with dark and serious topics in a way that I must say I found rather unnerving (this was particularly true of Disgrace which when I told a few people I was reading it, they asked why I had been forced to read such a horrible book). Oranges is a book which features the LBGTIQ community which did nothing to ease my worry. There’s a strange thing about gay and lesbian movies; they generally don’t end well. The couples are broken, society has torn them apart. So, surely this book would also leave me feeling frustrated that I had to read this crap?
Well, I’m pleased to say, that I didn’t. Oranges is a beautiful, beautiful book that left me with much to think about. It’s thought-provoking but never absolutely unlikable, because it’s dealt with in a rather unusual and unique way (although Life of Pi utilises a similar sort of trick, but for a very different purpose). Winterson uses stories to tell us what her protagonist, Jeanette (it’s semi-autobiographical) is really feeling.
Before I get into that, there are a few things you should know. Jeanette is a young girl raised by strict Evangelical parents who slowly comes to realise that she’s a lesbian. As she comes to this revelation, however, much of her journey is not written about directly. Instead, it is alluded to, through the use of fairy tales and later magic realism. Notably, the fiction only really starts to invade her life when she is at her darkest moment, which would suggest that Jeanette uses it as escapism.
Perhaps that’s why this book has resonated with me, because I do exactly the same thing and perhaps we all do, use fiction to escape from the painful fact that our lives can be. It’s sort of brilliant that a book can make you realise that what you are doing isn’t quite as strange as you once thought.
There’s more to this novel than that, though. The aspects about religion and the sense of wholeness that she gets from it, even once it has turned against her resonated with me in a powerful way. It’s a strong problem that the LBGTIQ community faces. We also sometimes feel the need to believe in a higher power, that we exist for a reason, so when the church rejects you because of the way you are which you can’t help, it is quite difficult.
I keep getting distracted. I tried to write a review that spoke about the novel in question that praised its brilliant use of story and language (no, actually I will, just for a moment. The language is utterly, utterly beautiful. It’s poetic. Lovely), but it’s almost impossible because I relate so strongly to the issues that are raised within (even though it’s quite a feminist book. I may have sensed an anti-gay male sentiment but I could be wrong and even if I’m not, it’s easily forgiven. Probably). Perhaps that is what Literature is, a book that raises universal issues that we can all relate to, making us decide what the solution to these problems may be. So I guess I have a lot to thank Oranges for. I think it may have just helped me understand my literature course. And it’s a poetic, warm and powerful book to boot. Wonderful.