Thursday, June 03, 2010


When the blogging cupboard was bare the other day I mentioned I could tell you about our book club meeting where we discussed Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. With Fran’s encouragement, “Go on. What did they think of 'Oranges'? Have you seen the film?” I’ve decided I do want to talk about it.

I want to talk about it because I am troubled.

I adored studying English literature at school and I’ve blogged before here and here about the teachers who contributed to that passion. Since I could read I’ve loved reading but later on I discovered that I really enjoyed studying books too.

But those things are different, aren’t they?

I think that that’s where we didn’t… couldn’t do Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit justice.  It’s possible to read and not study it but it throws up all sorts of questions for the average reader - at least it did at our book group. (And I am assuming that we’re the average reader… we’re all enthusiastic readers, educated – mostly to at least degree level – we read a wide range of material and want to meet with other addicts to talk about our experience.) Another assumption I’m going to make is that you know of or have read Jeanette Winterson’s OANtOF – if you don’t, you can check out its wiki page.

Many of us enjoyed it while acknowledging that we knew we were 'not getting it' or missing out in some way and others decided that they just didn't like it. I felt alienated. My knowledge of the Bible is sketchy. The chapter headings alone left me floundering, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: the Last Book of Law, Joshua, Judges and Ruth, the only one that means anything to this impious one is Genesis

I am of course a ‘looker upper’ of things and I wanted to be prepared for book club so Google pointed me towards Sparknotes. They told me that OANtOF fits firmly in the postmodern tradition. It explains that the confusing nature of the plot is deliberate. The interruption of Jeanette’s narrative for fables and myths “creates a ‘metafiction,’ or a fictional novel that attempts to question the nature of fiction instead of just recounting a simple plot.”

So simply put, it’s a deliberate device to remind the reader that what they are reading is artifice.

Why? Who wants to read only as an academic exercise? And how is the average reader (the non studying one) supposed to know this? 

If anyone is able to shed any light on this I would be most pleased. 


DOT said...

There was a time when the world believed in the omniescent narrator, i.e. one that could control all the events on the page and see within the heads of h/er characters as well as control the interpretation of their readers.

Then Freud entered the scene. Suddenly authors/artists realised they barely understood their own motivations let alone those of their creations. So modernism was born.

Along the way the intentionality of the author was challenged. The text was open to interpretation and not the dictatorship of the author. (If you don't believe this true, listen to the number of opinions that arise in a reading group.)

So we are left with the text, the surface of things, and this is what post-modernism is most interested in; one aspect being how the text undermines itself in that language itself is not a concrete substance that points irrevocably at things, i.e. is an oak tree described as an oak tree to identify what it is, or to indicate what it is not, as not being an ash, lime, etc?

So books like OANtOF are not academic, but attempt to deal with language as we find it.

(This, needless to say, is a very reductive explanation.)

Fran said...

What you say is really interesting, and I've come across the same thing recently reading Kate Atkinson, someone else who seems very aware of her own literary-ness. I loved 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum' but 'Emotionally Weird' was too eclectic for me. Even the humble English teacher needs a story that isn't interrupted too often by cleverness. Never mind. Now I'm onto 'The Great Gatsby' - quite diferent. (The word verification is 'hyper'. EXACTLY MY POINT!)

Fran said...

I mean, of course, 'different', not 'diferent'. Dur!

KatW said...

I love the way a book can create such depth of thought and consideration. Words and concepts depicted by them are so powerful. I ponder on how amazing it would be if my own words could one day inspire discussion and thought! Dreaming.....