Hannah Kate

poet, short story writer and editor based in Manchester

Read a Rainbow: Orange

On this week’s Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM, I was talking about all things orange in the second of my semi-regular series of colour-themed shows. I’ve ambitiously decided to follow the colours of the rainbow with this, so it’ll be yellow next time!

You can listen to the show on the player below, but as promised, here’s a list of the books I talked about on the show…

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)

I know I don’t always go for the obvious choices on my themed shows, but I couldn’t resist this time. As well as being (I think) the best-known book with ‘orange’ in the title, Anthony Burgess was born in Harpurhey, so it would have been rude not to include him on a North Manchester FM show! As I said on the show, A Clockwork Orange is one of those books that people are aware of without necessarily knowing what it’s about (and it has been somewhat overshadowed by Stanley Kubrick’s controversial film adaptation). Burgess’s satirical, dystopian novel follows Alex, a teenager involved in the ‘ultra violent’ droog subculture, committing crimes of increasing brutality. When Alex is sent to prison, a possible ‘cure’ for his violent tendencies is offered, but this will remove some of the young man’s free will. A Clockwork Orange isn’t an easy read, but it’s still a very thought-provoking one.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (1985)

The next book on my list was also a bit of an obvious one. Winterson’s 1985 novel is something of a coming-of-age tale, loosely based on the writer’s own upbringing. The protagonist is a young girl called Jeanette, who is brought up in a Pentecostal religious community and believes she is destined to be a missionary. However, Jeanette’s growing understanding of her own sexuality is at odds with the community (and with her mother’s beliefs), and she must find a way to navigate and stand up to this. Jeanette’s story is woven through with references to other literature, and the protagonist often understands her own identity through other literary figures. At times, this is almost like a quest or an adventure, and at others it’s more an interrogation of ‘story’ and the ways in which overtly fictional narratives can still be true, in a more fundamental way. This is the first book on today’s list that can really be called a coming-of-age tale, but this is a theme I kept coming back to on my orange-themed show.

Kumquat by Jeff Strand (2014)

Kumquat is an interesting book, as it’s an example of an author writing outside their more usual genre. Strand is much better known for writing comedy-horror, so Kumquat (a romantic-comedy road trip) is something of a departure. The book tells the story of Todd, a man in his mid-thirties who doesn’t really have much to show for his life. Todd meets Amy, a terminally ill woman, at a film festival, and somehow the two agree to go on a journey together to visit a really good hot dog place. There’s tenderness, comedy and a bit of tragedy as Todd and Amy’s relationship develops, as well as some unexpected encounters on the road. I’m not going to say anything more about the hot dog, but the book does do a good job in reminding us that it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters.

Tangerine by Edward Bloor (1997)

Turns out, there are a few books out there called Tangerine, but I wanted to include Bloor’s 1997 YA novel for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s a coming-of-age story with some fantastical (or heightened) elements, so it fits really well with the rest of today’s list. But secondly, it does have some descriptions of actual tangerine groves, so it was nice to be reminded that sometimes a fruit can be a fruit, rather than a metaphor! Tangerine is the story of middle-schooler Paul, who is visually impaired and a keen football player. A somewhat bizarre series of incidents lead to Paul attending Tangerine Middle School, on the other, poorer side of his town, and this kicks off another series of incidents that forces Paul to confront some difficult truths about himself, his family and his town. Tangerine is an off-beat coming-of-age story – not fantasy in the slightest, but still somewhat strange – and some of the revelations are pretty unsettling. But, like (almost) all the books on today’s list, it has a protagonist that you can’t help but root for.

Marmalade Hits the Big Time by Andrew Davies (1984)

I had to include this one on my list for the pure nostalgia. I loved Marmalade Atkins when I was a kid, and marmalade is orange, after all. In case you’re unaware, Marmalade Atkins – the worst girl in the world – was created by Andrew Davies. The first book was published in 1979, and the TV series was made a couple of years later. The books and series were very much of their time, in that they had that late 70s/early 80s anarchic feel that characterized a lot of kids TV back then. I chose Marmalade Hits the Big Time as an example of the series, and in this story Marmalade and her partner-in-crime Rufus (a talking, and very badly behaved, donkey) head to London together to cause trouble there. Although there’s a young heroine here, this is definitely not a coming-of-age story. Because Marmalade never learns.

The House of Rust by Khadija Abdalla Bajaber

This seemed like a really appropriate book to end today’s list (whether or not you agree with me that rust is a shade of orange!). A lot of the books on the list have been coming-of-age tales that engage with ideas of storytelling and the hero’s journey. Bajaber’s novel explores these ideas too, presenting its protagonist Aisha as a heroine on a journey within a fabulist – almost magical realist – narrative. Aisha’s life and community is defined by the sea, though as a girl she is encouraged to see her future in a more domestic setting. When her fisherman father goes missing at sea, Aisha sets out on a voyage of adventure and self-discovery, beset by fabulous perils and challenges. The House of Rust is a beautifully written book with a memorable heroine, and it was a great place to end today’s Read a Rainbow show!

To hear more about all of these books, and my reasons for choosing them, you can catch the show again here:


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