At the end of 2013/beginning of 2014 I read two books by Jeanette Winterson that I have decided to review together since I waited so long to share either of them. And because they are connected in a strange, but undeniable way. While Oranges are Not the Only Fruit is Winterson's first novel, it draws heavily from her own life, and the unfictionalized account is told in her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? published nearly two decades later. It was actually the memoir I was planning to read first, but as soon as I began it, the many references to Oranges meant that I had to stop, put it down, and return after having read the novel first.
Winterson's life, and the story she tells in both books, is something I can barely imagine. A girl adopted by very religious parents (especially the mother) only to do the unthinkable, fall in love with another girl. Despite all her struggles, there is a glimmer of hope to the Jeanette (also the name of the main character in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit) that Winterson later admits in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? wasn't real. An entire character, invented. The light in the darkness, false. It is was absolutely heartbreaking to read. In an unexpected twist, the novel tones down the things that nobody would believe-- except there they are, revealed in the memoir as the truth.
Both books, like everything I've read from Winterson, are quite short and only around 200 pages. There are so many sharp passages and moments are beautiful clarity in her phrasing, so many absolutely breath-taking passages. There are also a few moments in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit that are weighed down by angst, and they do exist in the memoir as well, but I also feel like the distance offered by the additional years provides a bit of clarity to what has happened. As classic as Winterson's novel is, and as well as it wraps things up in a way that only fiction can, I think I prefer the honesty and truth of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? a book that broke my heart in a way that only an emotionally raw and revealing story--a life lived-- can.
Release Date: January 1st 1985 / March 6th 2012 Pages: 192 / 230 Format: Hardcover
Source: Personal / Publisher Buy It: Book Depository / Book Depository