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The Orchard on Fire

3.63  ·  Rating Details ·  438 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
When Percy and Betty Harlency abandon their seedy Streatham pub, for the Copper Kettle Tearoom in Kent, life for their daughter April changes dramatically. She is befriended by the wonderfully dangerous Ruby, whose red hair and brutal home life emphasise her love of fire, and by the immaculately dressed Mr Greenridge who likes to follow her around the village. Mingling the ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published June 23rd 1997 by Vintage (first published 1995)
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Jan 24, 2015 Paul rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars; rounded up
Here is another female author who should be much better known. Those slightly older than me who were aware of novelists in the 60s will know that Mackay started writing then; her first work being published when she was 16. She mixed in artistic circles and produced a body of work that was regarded as somewhat avant-garde. After a gap in the 1970s she began writing again in the 80s. This novel was short listed for the Booker Prize in 1996. Don’t let that put you off, it’s ver
My favorite line in this book is, "Lex and Gloria's crime was that they were given a work of art and they treated it as if it was worthless with no reverence for the care that had gone into it, all that precision stippling and the rainbows in the pigtails that ended in two paint brushes of wet red hair in the rain." This book reminds us to value our children and to be cautious of those who aren't children but want to keep the company of children. I thought it was a very good book, writing that w ...more
Kirsty Darbyshire
Dec 07, 2010 Kirsty Darbyshire rated it really liked it
Shelves: borrowed

Picked up off the bookshelf in our holiday cottage - by Darren actually who thought I might like it based on the fact that he'd read another of Mackay's books years ago. And I did. Found it all a bit flowery at first (mostly due to reading it hot on the heels of Ian McEwan I think) but it paints a vivid picture of a 1950s village childhood. Some aspects of it I found a bit stereotypical but in the end they didn't distract from the overall tale.

Opening: I chose this place to live, believing that I would find anonymity among those who did not care if the plaster and glass and paintwork of rented houses splintered and decayed, who were not reproached by gardens gone to seed and rotting sofas.

April recounts her early years in Kent, where she moved to The Copper Kettle Cafe in the coronation year of 1953.
Nov 16, 2014 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
I loved this novel. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1996, it is everything a good novel should be.

It is beautifully written, but very unsettling. Evocative of a 1950s childhood in a small village, with underlying themes of menace, fear, loneliness and isolation even at the heart of a family. It also shows the support and love (but ultimate loss) of friendship.

The novel is narrated by April Harlency, looking back on her childhood in the 1950s. She moves with her parents, Betty and Percy, to
Jul 08, 2014 Dennis rated it did not like it
If you're looking to reminisce about your village girlhood in 1950's England, there are a lot of pop-cultural references here but since none of this applies to me, I'm left with all the "funny" bits that are more horrible than amusing. The thing was that the jacket reviews played up the "humor" and "nostalgia" of this life but I was left with the image of two 10-year-old girls, one who is being physically abused by her parents and has to hide black-and-blue marks from being tossed down the cella ...more
Dec 06, 2013 Konstantin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: serious
[rating = B-]
I was not sure, by the first sentences, if I would like this. Well, it was just a wonderfully spun story of friendship and the remembrance of things past. April is a girl who explores her world with bright eyes and hope. Her friendship with Ruby, a girl who likes fire, consist of reading books, getting into trouble at school and having someone to talk to. Though her character's seems a bit one-dimensional, they still exude a very human warmth, and can make you cry or laugh at a sent
Dec 19, 2013 Helen rated it liked it
This was a 3.5 book but I've rounded it down as the ending left me slightly dissatisfied. I know the novel was a journey rather than a destination but I'd have loved to have found out more.

This is a story of two young friends, April and Ruby, growing up in the austere 1950s. Being a child of the 50s myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the nostalgia of songs, sweets, soap scents and other items that were around at that time. These were the days when children were allowed to roam and explore, create dens
V C Willow
Jun 11, 2016 V C Willow rated it did not like it
Verbose writing, which is not helped by the uneven characterisation and a plot that's filled with half told points. In life of course there are always loose ends but as the story is told from the adult April's point of view of her childhood, the author had the chance to breach the decades that had passed. Instead we're given a disjointed narrative that leaves the reader dissatisfied as the ending fizzles into mediocrity.
Apr 18, 2009 Josie rated it it was ok
This book made me feel sick and uncomfortable the whole way through. I kept on reading in the hope that there might be some kind of hopeful (if not happy) ending, or at least resolution, but no. It had the kind of ending I hate -- miserable and inconclusive. It gets one star for the writing (which wonderfully evoked what it was like to grow up in the 50s) and one star for Betty and Percy (who I thought were brilliant parents).
Tony Gamble
Nov 26, 2012 Tony Gamble rated it did not like it
Oh dear.

Where is the story?

I am sure the writing is clever, but I don't have problems locating clever writing. I want my novels to tell me a yarn, a tale, a story. I could not find one after getting half way through this book so I gave up and took up another one in hope.

For me life is too short to be spent reading this sort of stuff.
May 11, 2008 Mady rated it really liked it
Shelves: bc, 2005
I loved this little book! It's wonderful to feel like a kid again (even though April wasn't a happy one) and see the world through kid's eyes!! I hated Mr Greenidge and felt really disgusted when he showed up. Unfortunately, I believe such kind of persons are real. :(
Aug 14, 2009 K rated it liked it
I found this book difficult to read because it's so depressing. I want April to speak out about Mr. Greenidge, but she never does. That man is so creepy and wrong. I actually am a bit sickened everytime he comes into the story. This book is just sad all around.
Debbie Walker
Nov 18, 2012 Debbie Walker rated it really liked it
Well written and interesting story about childhood friendships and growing up in the 1950s.
Jan 17, 2017 Mia rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. Most of all I loved the writing style of the author, it is simply beautiful. I thought the entire atmosphere was realistic. Even though I am not a child of the 1950's I feel certain that the author's portrayal of that era was spot on. A lovely story of looking back, regrets and longing.
Marie Leonard hullis
Feb 23, 2017 Marie Leonard hullis rated it really liked it
I stumbled across this in the library and loved it. The writing was beautiful and it created a very genuine childhood voice. The qualities of the key characters were communicated vividly through April's observations and experiences - especially her parents. It was a sad story though, and perhaps the end was a little rushed
Her Royal Orangeness
Shena Mackay is an author whom I have been curious about for awhile. She has been writing for five decades (beginning in 1968 and most recently in 2008) and her books have been nominated for three prestigious prizes - the Booker, the Costa, and the Orange. Yet for all that, she doesn’t seem to be an author that many people read though it certainly seems she’s worthy of attention. So, I’ve decided to read her oeuvre beginning with “The Orchard on Fire” which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize i ...more
Jan 17, 2014 Joan rated it it was amazing
Loved this book and am in admiration of the author's skill.

April and her family move from life in a London pub to the countryside running The Copper Kettle. Ruby becomes April's best friend and through the narrator's eyes and reasoning (April) we begin to realise that Ruby's parents are not caring and sometimes violent. Also that the friendship April is forced to have with an old man of the village is clearly not right. Mr Greenidge invites April to tea but forces kisses and hugs on her and gui
Jul 24, 2013 Hally rated it liked it
I would probably give this 3 1/2 stars really. I ordered the book after hearing Jacqueline Wilson and Richard Osman discuss it on the radio and thought it sounded right up my street as I love retrospective books, especially warts and all portrayals of childhood. I thought I was used to reading very tragic and dark books but found this one especially uncomfortable and unsettling. I think this could be because I expected the nostalgic to outweigh the sinister but this was not the case. At times I ...more
Mar 30, 2012 Pat rated it really liked it
Oh how I have enjoyed reading this book! It is tha last of the five books chosen for my literature group for the session that starts in September. It is the story of a frienship between two girls and it sarts in 1953. I was the same age as April in that year - 8 years old and it brought back so many memories of childhood that I was totally submerged in nostalgia. Thetwo girls have very different families but they are very loyal to each other. April has loving parents and grandparents and a baby ...more
Jan 14, 2010 Josie rated it really liked it
The majority of this book is narrated by April, as an 8/10 yr old child, and relates her experiences of growing up in a small community in the 1950's. The world is seen from a child's perspective and is rich with the colour of hollyhocks, orchards and Ruby's, April's best friend's, flame red hair. Many of the characters in April's world are also colourful, but there are also those of a much darker hue.
I enjoyed Shena Mackay's style of writing, vivid, clourful, and flecked with subtle humour. The
Mar 23, 2011 Elaine rated it really liked it
A brilliantly written, if somewhat disturbing read. Young April and her family move to a village to take over the running of the local tea shop, in the 1950s. In part the novel is an a elegy to childhood, and friendship. But underlying the narrative, is the sinister and frightening emergence of the abusive Greenidge. He "befriends" and ultimately grooms April, and the author does a tremendous job of conveying the fear and guilt the young girl experiences in the face of this trauma. The character ...more
Andy Bryant
Jul 24, 2014 Andy Bryant rated it liked it
I love Shena Mackay's writing. Old Crow was one of the best books I read this year, and while The Orchard On Fire is more of a ramble through a childhood in 50s England without the clear purpose behind Old Crow, it's thoroughly absorbing. What is clever is that April's childhood was not easy, it was permeated by sadness and hardship (and the sinister - an element you seem to find in all Mackay's writing), yet the story still comes off as being at least in part nostalgic. Children want to find th ...more
Feb 13, 2015 Suetheartist rated it liked it
I'm not sure who or where this book was recommended to me so I was happy to see it arrive for me at the local library. I liked the long drawn out descriptions at first. The colloquial language was charming but after awhile I became bothered. And bothered also at how a little child was ignored as an old fart began to kiss and handle this child. The world of secrets begins and turns into the reactions of adults and how they fail miserably at times. The threads of the story faltered and my interest ...more
Alan Hughes
Jun 16, 2009 Alan Hughes rated it really liked it
When April Harlency and her parents move from Streatham to The Copper Kettle Tearoom in Kent April's whole life changes. Through her eyes we witness her rite of passage from childhood to adolescence. With her best friend, the wonderfully exciting but dangerous Ruby, they discover an idyllic secret world in the orchard. However, their lives are permeated with a sense of menace which is mainly centred on Mr Greenidge who befriends April and involves her in a sinister and uncomfortable relationship ...more
Jan 08, 2014 Sally rated it really liked it
What should have been an idyllic childhood has a quiet air of menace hanging over it. Well written, with some gentle humour (I laughed out loud in a couple of places), the characters are entirely believable, especially for anyone who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in England. Mackay wraps things up nicely at the end - but this only serves to highlight the loss of April's childhood and indeed one's own, while underlining a fundamental fact: life goes on so you may as well get on with it! Well wor ...more
Nov 24, 2014 Sarah rated it it was amazing
April Harlency a middle-aged, lonely schoolteacher returns impulsively to the small village where she lived as an eight year old child. We are taken back to that time in her life. Her writing is so rich and she manages to describe perfectly the world as seen through the eyes of a child. There are darker themes in the novel which are sensitively written. A cast of colourful villagers. Some sad, funny and happy moments. A wonderful novel.
Dec 26, 2014 Elize rated it really liked it
This book is one of those "feel good" books that you don't want to end. April and Ruby are childhood best friends and the author makes the reader also want a special friendship like them. They have their trials and tribulations and their lives flow this way and that like a slow flowing river. The story is full of wonderful, original metaphors which brings you right in the midst of events. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
May 31, 2014 Evelyn rated it it was amazing
Delighted to have picked up this little gem with my monthly trawl through the charity shops. A gorgeous read. I sat in the sun today and was transported to the world of April Harlency in Kent in the 1950s. A wonderful evocation of childhood and a bygone era. It's not all chintz and smiles mind you - but truthful and so beautiful. Really well written, funny and sad -well worth reading.
Jun 27, 2014 Willowgreen rated it it was ok
I added this to my wishlist after hearing it reviewed on the radio. Unfortunately it didn't live up to expectations. For me the whole story didn't really ring true & the whole Mr Greenidge thing made my skin crawl. The Greengage Summer Rumer Godden & I Capture The Castle Dodie Smith both stories from a child's perspective are far superior books imo.
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Shena Mackay was born in Edinburgh in 1944 and currently lives in London. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and also Honorary Visiting Professor to the MA in Writing at Middlesex University.

Her novels include the black comedy Redhill Rococo (1986), winner of the Fawcett Society Book Prize; Dunedin (1992), which won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award; and the acclaimed The Orchard
More about Shena Mackay...

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