I finished a book! This is the first time in how long…?
Jeanette Winterson is one of my favourite authors, and Oranges had been sat on my shelf half-read and half-hidden behind a row of other ragtag books, each marked in various places where I had started and drifted from, trying to beat my poor concentration. I struggle to read, but everywhere in my room are piles of books, rows of books, bags of books.
I guess this makes me some kind of optimist.
“Book collecting is an obsession, an occupation, a disease, an addiction, a fascination, an absurdity, a fate. It is not a hobby. Those who do it must do it. Those who do not do it, think of it as a cousin of stamp collecting, a sister of the trophy cabinet, bastard of a sound bank account and a weak mind.”
— Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson writes in spirals, in the same way most people think in spirals. People don’t think in lines, they jump from one memory to another, from one association to something completely unrelated.
Oranges is the story of Winterson’s own life – fact woven in with fiction – and how she grew up in a radical church and left when she fell in love with another girl. At the London Literature Festival she said that her mother refused to let any books into the house that weren’t (as she called them) Godly. Winterson bought books in secret and kept them under her bed, piled high until the mattress began to rise up like the princess and the pea. Her mother found the books and burned them all in a bonfire in the garden, sending scraps of stories and poems flying up on the heat and smoke.
You can listen to the talk here: http://www.jeanettewinterson.com/pages/content/index.asp?PageID=602
Funny, strong, insightful, sometimes fantastical (the story of a girl Winnet who has to leave her wizard father’s kingdom doesn’t uncomfortably elbow into the main plot, but bursts like a red carnation to pull in the other colours in the narrative together) and brilliant. I love this book.
“There are many forms of love and affection, some people can spend their whole lives together without knowing each other’s names. Naming is a difficult and time-consuming process; it concerns essences, and it means power. But on the wild nights who can call you home? Only the one who knows your name.”
“The unknownness of my needs frightens me. I do now know how huge they are, or how high they are, I only know that they are not being met. If you want to find out the circumference of an oil drop, you can use lycopodium powder. That’s what I’ll find. A tub of lycopodium powder, and I will sprinkle it on to my needs and find out how large they are. Then when I meet someone I can write up the experiment and show them what they have to take on.”
“I didn’t want to tell the story of myself, but someone I called myself. If you read yourself as fiction, it’s rather more liberating than reading yourself as fact.”
“And when I look at a history book and think of the imaginative effort it has taken to squeeze this oozing world between two boards and typeset, I am astonished. Perhaps the event has an unassailable truth. God saw it. God knows. But I am not God. And so when someone tells me what they heard or saw, I believe them, and I believe their friend who also saw, but not in the same way, and I can put these accounts together and I will not have a seamless wonder but a sandwich laced with mustard of my own.”
“Everyone who tells a story tells it differently, just to remind us that everybody sees it differently. Some people say there are true things to be found, some people say all kinds of things can be proved. I don’t believe them. The only thing for certain is how complicated it all is, like string full of knots. It’s all there but hard to find the beginning and impossible to fathom the end. The best you can do is admire the cat’s cradle, and maybe knot it up a bit more.”
“Of course, people will laugh at you, but people laugh at a great many things so there is no need to take it personally.”