This book is very hard to review.
I read Oranges are Not the Only Fruit in 2009 and loved it. I believe I realized that it was pseudo-autobiographical partway through, which added to the story. Pieces of the story came across as particularly truthful and authentic, but I had no way of knowing whether it was true-to-life or narrative authenticity.
This is the rest of that story, in which Jeannette Winterson recounts childhood trauma, survival, and insatiable need for literature. Through this framework, she recounts pieces of her career and the way she has related to others. Throwaway lines make me wince, casual cruelties piled on top of what would now be considered child abuse, such as being starved, exorcised, beaten, and locked in the coal shed for three days to cure lesbianism or just because her adopted mother was depressed. On top of that, Mrs W burned Winterson's books. While she acknowledges that hungry nights in the coal-shed did a number on her, Winterson's passage about the night of the book burning is raw. That memory is almost more painful.
There is a lot in this book to love. I adore Winterson's passages about working-class Manchester, framing it as a place of quiet dignity and diligent workmanship rather than the dingy scullery that modern media makes of "the lower classes." Especially from the perspective of American "middle class," which is composed of everyone who is not obscenely wealthy or actively cashing welfare checks, Winterson came from a small community who believed in finding meaning, assistance, and literary or life guidance through books. The fact that this appears novel is telling.
What truly makes this book work, though, is not just Winterson's examination of her Pentecostal adopted mother who spent her time smoking in secret, out-dogma-ing Mormon missionaries, and actively preparing for the Apocalypse (which is excellent though occasionally hard to read). It's Winterson's startled self-examination through the framework of her adoptive mother's withheld affection. She examines her work and her past actions, and it's slightly fascinating.