This is my book club reading for January. The author won the Whitbread Prize for best first fiction for this book.
The good thing about joining a book club is that it forces you to read beyond what you would usually pick. I think for 2016, the chairperson wants to pick books which have been made into movies, which is an excellent idea.
I actually watched the movie on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXsK08cbgNw) before reading the book, and thoroughly enjoyed the 2 hour 45 minutes movie. The book though is shorter than expected. There are some difference between book and movie: chiefly the protagonist in the book is named Jeanette, which makes me wonder if this is an autobiography, for the author was also raised by Pentecostal evangelists and was destined to become a missionary. In the movie, she is named Jessica, or Jess as she is often called. Like the author, Jess in the movie went on to Oxford but in the book, Jeanette left the town to work in a mental hospital.
The story starts when the child Jeanette is about seven years old. Adopted by a religious woman and her husband, she is surrounded by her domineering mother and her group of friends from church. The only male to have any influence in her mother is the pastor. Her education, environment and conversation is revolved around what is holy, the church and the lord, or the demon and hell. Her mother hopes that she will be a missionary when she grows up. School becomes a problem for the young girl.
When she is fourteen, she meets Melanie and falls in love with her. (The movie has a nude scene between the two girls which is not in the book) and is forced to examine what she has learned so far from church – that it is a sin to love the wrong people. The girls are separated and punished by the church but when she falls for another girl, she is kicked out of the community.
Watching the movie before reading the book makes understanding the story a little easier for me, someone who is not a church goer. For one, the heading of each chapter is a name, presumably taken from the Bible. There are unrelated stories (Sir Perceval and King Arthur’s knights and Winnet) which are added in the book, I believe, as a metaphor for what Jeanette is going through.
I like the first part of the book. Jeanette as a seven-year-old has the innocence of a child but the wit of an old woman, probably because she is surrounded by them, her best friend being an eighty-year-old Elsie. Oranges are featured heavily in the story although I cannot find the significance unless it’s the only fruit grown in Lancashire. Perhaps raising the question: Oranges is not the only fruit – and the bible is not the only book?