Written in 1985 and then adapted for the BBC in 1990, Jeanette
Winterson's novel, and the subsequent television series, won
acclaim and intense popularity with their sensitive portrayal of
Jess, a young girl coming to terms with who she is.
However, it is not just the story of a lesbian. It's far more than
that. Watching it, I felt relieved that not everything was
constantly referred back to homosexuality, as in the modern world
it shouldn't be. My Dad, the biggest TV critic in the world, said
it was one of his favourite dramas and so the idea of spending
nearly three hours in front of the box was, for the first time in a
while, exceedingly exciting. That is, until the sex scene came on
and I made him go and find some obscure tea at the back of the
cupboard to cover up my increasingly red face.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit follows Jess, an adopted girl
living in a mining town in the northern England, who is brought up
by a strict, verging on crazed, Pentecostal family. I have to
admit, I don't really know anything about that particular
denomination, I've only heard the phrase used once, when my hair
caught fire in church, and even then I wasn't quite sure what the
priest was going on about! I sometimes wonder though whether that
was down to being repeatedly hit on the head and my slightly
blackened ears. I guess I'll never know.
Anyway, because religion plays such a central part in Oranges, it
would be easy to go down that route, but I can't relate to it. My
experience of religion as a child was really just Sunday school,
cups of tea and grannies smelling of cats and bath salts. Jesus was
a man with beautiful hair and the devil didn't exist. Jess and I,
before we reached the dreaded years of being a teenager, were not
similar at all. We had nothing in common.
I think what is important in Oranges is how Jess deals with the
hate and the hardship that is thrown at her. Like many other main
characters in lesbian-themed films or books, Jess is strong-willed,
intelligent and at points defiant. She knows she's gay and she's
not going to do anything about it. She recognises who she is and
that isn't going to change. In many ways, that sense of loneliness
and isolation is familiar to her. She's essentially an outsider in
a group of outsiders.
I think lots of gay teenagers, whether they are in or out of the
closet, feel like outsiders, but yet again, so do many who are
straight. Growing up and coming to terms with who you are is tough.
I couldn't stress that enough. I know I'm not going to fulfil my
mother's dream of becoming a lawyer, marrying a Colin Firth
look-a-like or wearing tweed at every possible occasion and
actually, I don't care; I'm like Jess, I've accepted who I am and
that wouldn't ever change for someone else.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is emotive; it tugs at your
heartstrings. You feel a connection with Jess and you don't want to
let that go. You desperately want her to succeed, to not give up,
to realise that all will be well in the end. You subconsciously
encourage her to experience and to feel. For me that's vital, in
any form of media.
Normally, when I need some inspirational women to get me going, I
plug in Lady Gaga or even, embarrassingly put on The Sound of
Music. Now I think I might just go to Jess and her oranges.
How classic is Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit?
How relevant is it? 4/5
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (the book) is
available from DIVADirect, priced £6.99.
The DVD of the TV drama is
available from Amazon.