Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson Review


oranges are not the only fruit
Title: “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit”
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Country: United Kingdom
Pages: 176
Year published: 1985
My rating: ★★★★☆

A coming-of-age and coming-out story at the same time, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit held me captive for two evenings in November last year. The semi-biographical work of fiction is short but packed with fantastical stories and bitter-sweet memories.

Young Jeanette is growing up in a Pentecostal household in the dreary Midlands in the ’60s. Few circumstances could provide a worse start in life for a girl who doesn’t truly believe in God, is gay, and wants an education. Coming to terms with her sexuality and the way she’s different from most of the girls her age is challenging, but somehow Jeanette manages to remain sane and ends up finding her own way.

Jeanette’s upbringing is often what leads to destroyed souls ad crashed dreams, so I admired the semi-fictional character for her strength. It’s really something to go to Oxford and become a world-famous writer after you’ve had to overcome your mother and church condemning you for your “unnatural passions. The pressures of conformity are nasty anytime, but the 60’s were truly harsh for this kind of business.

Nevertheless, the book is poetic and funny at times, and it involves a funeral parlour and an ice-cream van. Not your typical coming-of-age story, but still something you’ll have a hard time forgetting.

“I have a theory that every time you make an important choice, the part of you left behind continues the other life you could have had.”

Young Jeanette has a hard time making choices in a world where no one is keen to validate anything that’s unconventional.

“Everyone thinks their own situation most tragic. I am no exception.”

And of course, she is aware that her life is going to be a difficult one, so she embraces any form of escapism that’s within her reach. She also has a rather odd relationship with God, particularly for someone whose mother arranged an exorcism for her at 16 when she found out she might be gay.

“I miss God. I miss the company of someone utterly loyal. I still don’t think of God as my betrayer. The servants of God, yes, but servants by their very nature betray. I miss God who was my friend. I don’t even know if God exists, but I do know that if God is your emotional role model, very few human relationships will match up to it.”

Next Winterson book on my list is “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal,” another semi-biographical work that I hope will get me on another fascinating ride into Jeanette’s mind.


The Vegetarian by Han Kang Review

the vegetarian han kang
Title: The Vegetarian (Original Title Chaesikjuuija)
Author: Han Kang
Translator: Deborah Smith
Country: South Korea
Pages: 188
Year published: 2007
My rating: ★★★★☆

It is rare to read a novel so visceral you feel it physically. Han Kang’s The Vegetarian does this and more, transporting the reader into a world where the senses are confused and the psyche is tormented.

I read this book in one sitting, even though I hadn’t planned to do so. Provocative and captivating, this three-part South Korean work of fiction is not for the faint of heart and is surely something else entirely for English-speaking readers who may not do well with such powerful imagery.

Yeong-hye is an apparently ordinary woman whose sole quirk is that she never wears a bra. She’s plain, uninteresting, and married to a man who goes to work, comes back, expects to have his food on the table, and doesn’t care much about anything.

One night, Yeong-hye has a hallucinating dream and decides to become a strict vegetarian. She throws away all the expensive cuts of meat from the freezer, and her life slowly fades away as she leads a tree-like existence.

Of course, her decision to purge her mind and renounce meat has all kinds of repercussions. In a traditional society like the South Korean one, where women are expected to do as they’re told and live the lives their mothers and grandmothers lived before them, standing out from the crowd is not permissible. The odd and tragic consequences of her gesture make the novel read like a mute protest against a traditional society that suppresses the soul and denies any chance at transformation.

“The feeling that she had never really lived in this world caught her by surprise. It was a fact. She had never lived. Even as a child, as far back as she could remember, she had done nothing but endure. She had believed in her own inherent goodness, her humanity, and lived accordingly, never causing anyone harm. Her devotion to doing things the right way had been unflagging, all her successes had depended on it, and she would have gone on like that indefinitely. She didn’t understand why, but faced with those decaying buildings and straggling grasses, she was nothing but a child who had never lived.”

Obsession, violence, and raw sexuality are omnipresent in the book, which reminded me of the sensations Elfriede Jelinek’s The Pianist showered over me. 

Animal eyes gleaming wild, the presence of blood, unearthed skull, again those eyes. Rising up from the pit of my stomach. Shuddering awake, my hands, need to see my hands. Breathe. My fingernails still soft, my teeth still gentle. Can only trust my breasts now. I like my breasts, nothing can be killed by them. Hand, foot, tongue, gaze, all weapons from which nothing is safe. But not my breasts. With my round breasts, I’m okay. Still okay. So why do they keep on shrinking? Not even round anymore. Why? Why am I changing like this? Why are my edges all sharpening – what I am going to gouge?

Besides being a novel about a women’s breaking away with tradition, The Vegetarian is also about the pain and complexity of having to live in a world where no one truly gets you. The lack of the family’s understanding of Yeong-hye’s mental troubles is astounding. They don’t even pity her, they don’t offer help but instead react violently with their sole purpose being reverting Yeong-hye to her original, submissive state. 

The Vegetarian is a short novel that you won’t forget too quickly. I read reviews from people who couldn’t bear the way Han Kang infiltrates into the depths of the human mind, and others who couldn’t cope with the violent images. It is indeed a powerful work of fiction that is not meant to be comfortable. It is full of nuances that may elude some readers, but in the end, it is shocking in a way only books stroke by genius are. 

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt Review

Title: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tart
Country: USA
Pages: 771
Year published: 2013
My rating: ★★★☆☆

A couple of years ago I read The Secret History and loved it tremendously. Maybe it was because it was about a couple of Classics students and I was one of them at one point in my life. I was fascinated by the level of detail Tartt added to the narrative and I still believe it’s one of the best works of contemporary fiction I read.

And then The Goldfinch was published in 2013, and for some reason, I postponed reading it until now. I treated it like one of the books you know it’s going to be good because an author you love wrote it and everyone else confirms it (even the Pulitzer people), so you put it off for those times you really need to be engulfed in a stunning book. I saved it, as it were.

Last month, after reading a couple of rather disappointing works of fiction in a row, I decided to turn my luck around and dive right in The Goldfinch. And it was a bitter-sweet experience.

First, I have to say that Tartt does justice to any story because damn, she knows how to write. Yes, the book is almost 800-pages long, but for the most part, you won’t be bored. The first thing that slightly ruined the experience was the level of detail about art. It’s exactly what I loved about The Secret History, but in this new novel, Tartt goes to the next level and you somehow feel that it’s a bit too much. It sometimes gets to the point you lose the plot because of all the digressions.

Of course, it’s a book that’s about paintings, and museums, and art lovers, so of course it’s going to explore the subject in depth. And don’t get me wrong, I am an art-museum junkie myself, but I still found the pages and pages of lessons in art put in the mouth of the characters a tad too much. This becomes the liability of what is otherwise a stunning story with memorable characters. Tartt throws so many names and references to the reader that you need to have studied Art History at one point in your life to really get them all. I confess that I had to stop and Google some of the references to refresh my memory.

“You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life.”

The painting in the story actually exists – it’s The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt’s, whose work is largely lost. The book is a bildungsroman in which Theo Decker lives through the violent death of his mother in an art museum bomb explosion when he was a teenager and sails through depression, drugs, and eerie relationships with Boris, a Ukrainian kid with a fascinating personality and Pippa, a girl he first met the day his mother died.

I won’t give away the story, but suffice to say it keeps you captivated enough not to give up after the first 100-pages as you may be tempted. I found the construction of the book rather odd and bold at the same time because you’re actually told where it’s all going in the first two sections (about 100 pages in). I don’t care much for this style, but somehow it works. The middle of the book is the part I found tiresome and rather difficult to follow. It feels a bit like the editor hasn’t done their job properly, with over-laborious descriptions that look self-indulgent at times.

All in all, I don’t regret the almost two weeks I spent reading The Goldfinch (it doesn’t really take that much, but life happens). It’s just it wasn’t what I expected it to be, but I also believe it’s very difficult to match The Secret History, hence the bitter-sweet aftertaste.



Death at Intervals by José Saramago Review

saramago death at intervals
Title: Death at Intervals (Original Title: As Intermitências da Morte)
Author: José Saramago
Translator: Margaret Jull Costa 
Country: Portugal
Pages: 196
Year published: 2005
My rating: ★★★★★

José Saramago is one of those wonder individuals in the history of literature who serve as a model to any writer-wannabe. Ever since I first read about his life, I was fascinated by his passion for words that was so powerful it gave him the strength to turn from a car mechanic into a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Saramago only got the recognition he deserved when he was in his 60s and received the Nobel Prize for Literature at 76. When he died from leukemia at 87, his native Portugal was in mourning. He is now regarded as one of the country’s most precious treasures.

Death at Intervals is a short dystopian novel about, you guessed, death. One New Year day in an unnamed country comes with a gift: people stop dying. Death is AWOL and everybody is drunk with happiness in the beginning. But after a few months, the locals discover that the lack of death doesn’t equal eternal life, and problems arise. From issues with life insurance to political and religious implications, it seems that it’s not easy to deal with death in absentia.

“Whether we like it or not, the one justification for the existence of all religions is death, they need death as much as we need bread to eat.”

“If we don’t start dying again, we have no future,” is a phrase the prime minister tells the king at one point. After a couple of months, death makes a return but decides to be a bit more courteous from now on so everyone will start receiving a violet envelope to let them know they have a week to live. To complicate things even more, it looks like death can actually fall in love.

Death at Intervals is a social satire as much as a philosophical exploration of the human relationship with the concept of finality, as well as an inquiry in human frailty. Even though it can’t compare with Saramago’s more powerful works such as Blindness, it’s still a wonderful, slightly humorous skinny novel that offers an insight into the imaginative world of the Portuguese master.



Waltzing to the Top – 10 Books I Regret I Read

There comes a moment in the life of every reader when you pick up a book because of the hype or simply as a spur-of-the-moment thing and you end up thinking “why have I started reading this?” If you’re like me and can’t stand to leave books unfinished, I sense trouble.

I should first say that my obsession to finish every book I start unless it’s so bad it’s unreadable has a good side, and that’s the fact I do a bit of research about a book before starting it. This happens most of the time, but I’ve had my lapses in judgment. These are ten books I read, but I wish I hadn’t wasted my time with them.

Alain de Botton – The Romantic Movement: Sex, Shopping, and the Novel


I picked up this book because I’ve heard good things about Alain de Botton from people I follow on Goodreads. Maybe it’s just a matter of taste, but I believe this was full of pretentious, pompous writing that’s also patronizing. This book has it all. It’s like a bad case of mansplaining on 300 pages. Drawings to summarize the pseudo-philosophical explanations of why things go wrong in a relationship? You can’t make this up. It’s also a book I couldn’t finish. I gave up after about 150 pages. Yes, it was that bad. Suffice to say I’m never reading de Botton again.

Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

hunger games

The Hunger Games is one of the books I was pushed to read by the hype. I made it to the end of the first part and hadn’t felt the need to read more. Maybe I was too old for this kind of thing, but while the idea behind it was rather interesting, the writing was so, so bad.

Liane Moriarty – The Husband’s Secret

liane moriarty

This appeared on my recommendations list on Goodreads a couple of times and I thought I should give it a try. Bad move. It’s a shallow book with a childish style and I was quite astonished by what can pass as a bestseller these days. It’s more like a teenagers’ attempt at a novel, a bad one at that.

Paolo Coehlo – Veronika Decides to Die


About 10 years ago, I wanted to see what the Coehlo hype was all about. Twenty pages into Veronika Decides to Die I decided that I don’t care about hypes after all. It’s so badly written, that it makes you wonder how someone who writes this way can be a bestselling author like Coehlo is. The book landed into the “never touch again” pile.

Paula Hawkins – Girl on the Train

girl on the train

Again with the hype. (In my defense, I do believe that as a rule of thumb, if a book is glorified too much, it’s not worth it. But sometimes I’m mistaken and find that I actually enjoy a hyped book very much. This is how I discovered A Man Called Ove and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, to name a couple of recent ones.) With Girl on the Train, I knew I was taking the risk of wasting 4-5 hours of my life from the beginning. My instinct was right – so not worth it. The characters were very poorly built, and don’t get me started on the actual plot. Bonus points for setting the story on a UK train – I think catching the actual feeling of travelling on one was the best thing about this book.

Helen Fielding – Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy

mad about the boy

Bridget Jones’ Diary was published in 1999 when I was a teenager. I remember being captivated by the witty writing and I devoured the book at a time I should have been studying instead. (Yeah, I know, but who can say they didn’t read fiction just to postpone studying just for a little bit?). So when I heard that Mad About the Boy was published after all those years, I jumped at the occasion to read it. The disappointment was as massive as the initial excitement, unfortunately. While Helen Fielding’s voice is still funny, the plot was uninspired and downright infuriating sometimes. (SPOILER ALERT) What has Mark Darcy ever done to you, Helen? Was it really necessary to kill him?

B.A. Paris – Behind Closed Doors

behind closed doors

The plot of Behind Closed Doors is implausible and the entire construction of the book was just poor. We read about a 21st-century woman who is locked in a room by her husband for years and no one knows about it because he somehow forces her to act normal with friends? And she accepts the abuse because she’s scared he’ll send her to an asylum? The 19 century called – they want their plot back. One of those books I kept reading because I couldn’t believe how bad it was.

Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl 


Boring and predictable are the adjectives that would best describe Gone Girl. The characters are awful and the plot goes nowhere. The woman is whiny and the man is a misogynist pig. I can’t be bothered to go back and look up their names. If that is “Thriller of the Year”, I feel bad for thrillers.

A.S.A. Harrison – The Silent Wife

the silent wife

I really can’t remember why I decided that this book was worth reading, but it doesn’t matter because it was a bad one indeed. One of those stories that try too much to hook the reader and end up with characters you don’t give a flying f*** about.

Jodi Picoult – Handle with Care

jodi picoult handle with care

I made the mistake to pick this up after I read Small Great Things. Terrible characters and an ending that was really amateurish. Suing a doctor because they didn’t inform you that your unborn child would be disabled because you can’t cope with said child is not my idea of a good premise for a novel.

Christie Watson – Where Women Are Kings

where women are kings christie watson

This wasn’t a very bad book per se, but I still regret the time I spent reading it. Maybe because it reads too much as a lesson in child abuse. Or maybe because of the ending, which was unnecessary and disappointing.