Reading Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? led me back to this book.
Oranges was published in 1985, winning the Whitbread Award for First Novel. In the summer of ’85 I sat my ‘A’ levels, finished school, and was getting ready to move out of my home, away from my friends and my home city, to take up a place at Durham University. It was also the summer of the historic Live Aid concert. So it is a summer I associate with things changing, things about to happen, on so many levels, teetering on the threshold of life. And I must have heard about or stumbled across this book, because I bought it and read it for the sheer hell of it and not because it was on some reading list or other. Actually now I come to look at it, the edition I have was published in 1991 so that must have happened later, after I’d graduated and got married, but for some reason my memory links reading Oranges to that summer.
I wish I could remember now how my 25 year-old self felt when I read it. I hope I would have recognised the humour in the tale of the girl, Jeanette, who is raised by a religious obsessive and then falls in love with her friend, Melanie, to the horror of her adopted mother and her church. And I hope I would have wondered over the little bits of fairy tale that interrupt Jeanette’s narrative from time to time, giving her story a mythic quality. And if that makes the whole thing sound too heavy and worthy that isn’t my intention because the genius of this book lies in its lightness of touch. It’s easy to forget, nearly 30 years on from publication, just how fresh, how experimental, how controversial, this novel was when it appeared.
*** Highly recommended