From the attic of Lyntons, a dilapidated English country mansion, Frances Jellico sees them—Cara first: dark and beautiful, then Peter: striking and serious. The couple is spending the summer of 1969 in the rooms below hers while Frances is researching the architecture in the surrounding gardens. But she's distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she finds a peephole that gives her access to her neighbors’ private lives.
To Frances' surprise, Cara and Peter are keen to get to know her. It is the first occasion she has had anybody to call a friend, and before long they are spending every day together: eating lavish dinners, drinking bottle after bottle of wine, and smoking cigarettes until the ash piles up on the crumbling furniture. Frances is dazzled.
But as the hot summer rolls lazily on, it becomes clear that not everything is right between Cara and Peter. The stories that Cara tells don’t quite add up, and as Frances becomes increasingly entangled in the lives of the glamorous, hedonistic couple, the boundaries between truth and lies, right and wrong, begin to blur. Amid the decadence, a small crime brings on a bigger one: a crime so terrible that it will brand their lives forever.
Claire Fuller is the author of five novels: The Memory of Animals, which will be published in April 23 in the UK, and June 23 in the US and Canada. Her previous, Unsettled Ground, which won the Costa Novel Award 2021, and was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction; Our Endless Numbered Days, which won the 2015 Desmond Elliott prize; Swimming Lessons, shortlisted for the Encore Prize; and Bitter Orange longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award.
I can’t pretend any longer that I haven’t read this book - can’t put off writing a review forever - (for my own sanity). My head is swimming with thoughts. I’ll be back with more things I’d like to express - share - review- call it what you want - soon - still need a day or two.
NO OTHER BOOK - THIS ENTIRE YEAR - has me THIS involved in thought!!!!!!!!
Claire Fuller is phenomenal- brilliant - INCREDIBLY TALENTED!!!! “Bitter Orange” demonstrates just how skillful and extraordinary of a writer she is!!!! Damn.... this book was GOOD!!!!!
Review in a day or two... I’m Back!
So, ..... it’s true, I’ve been thinking about this book a lot. This literary fiction is filled with symbolism in which I’ve been waffling between writing a traditional type review about the plot and characters, or the process I’ve been going through or a little of both. I’ve never hesitated this long to write a review - nor waited this long after reading a book ( almost 2 weeks since finishing it with close to 800 notes). If I were a college literature professor- wanting to pick a book which had potential to create stimulating discussion- this would be my pick. I’d want to be in that class. It would be much too egotistical of me to think I understood everything about this book - (I’ve been trying: ha, you can laugh now)....but I am left pondering about the characters & still thinking about this entire novel. And isn’t that what great literature does? Drive us a little into our head?
This may be called “Bitter Oranges”.....( citrus aurantium, having a sour juiceless taste), but the novel itself - was oozing juicy!
Claire Fuller had me reading excerpts from The Bible: Deuteronomy....NO KIDDING! I was researching for days - many different beliefs about bitterness. I couldn’t help but wonder if Claire did too. She must have.
The Vicar in this story ( Victor), wanted to leave the church, which lead me to question why.....which lead me to wonder, “what is the root, that causes deadly, bitter fruit to sprout in the church? And that’s about the time I started doing my own research which lead me to the Bible. I think I found answers - well, that pacified my mind anyway. I admit - I was getting carried away - but I was involved - and as I returned to reading Claire’s book - it seemed like the lenses that I was looking through were more clear.
Victor - the church - the graveyard - the grounds - and the entire Lynton House in England were vital to this story —— summer of 1969. But the focus is an in-depth psychological character study of Frances, Claire, and Peter who were each hired by a wealthy American to make a systematic list of the items found - appraise the grounds. Frances was hired for the garden architecture. Peter and Claire were employed to catalog inside the house. The work that the trio were hired for is besides the point. It got them there. It’s everything else that happens that propels the reader to keep reading.
There was a sentence - just one small sentence we come to late in this novel that that me JUMP OUT OF MY SEAT .... LAUGH SILLY!!! I had a few words of my own to add. “If we were so inclined we could read all sorts of things into that note”. I’m aware it’s completely out of context and I’m not giving you any backstory - however - I laughed because after submerging my entire heart and soul into this book ( which was my choice & pleasure), I felt like screaming these words.... “Ha, ya think?..... WE COULD READ ALL SORTS OF THINGS INTO **THIS* NOVEL!!!!!!
It’s nearly impossible to properly summarize this novel. So .... here are a few ‘pick-from-a-hat’ things I’ll share ( no spoilers - just my thoughts and or feelings)
......EVERY CHARACTER HAS A PAST THEY WOULD RATHER FORGET!
......Since this is a character driven story - it’s not important one way or another to like the characters.
A *little* about Frances Jellico: Frances, like a petulant child, at age 39, had so much self-obsession- yet so little self-awareness. As AN ADULT - Frances shared a bedroom in the same bed with her mother in an apt. in London. There ‘was’ a second bedroom - but mother used it for ‘her’ clothes. Not only did Frances take care of her for ten years before her mother died - she took in her mother’s critical words which Frances inhabited as part of her own inner judgmental voice after her death - telling her what to do.
When Frances arrived in England - free from her mother - new job - new beginning - I found it interesting that Frances wore her mother’s underwear and a locket around her neck given to her by her mother with a photo inside of a generic woman. If you read this book - take notice of ‘when’ Frances would touch it. Always at very specific times ( consciously or unconsciously).
More characteristics of Frances: low self esteem - socially inept - flaky - cautious - envious - jealous - resentful- ignorant about basic living skills - feels out of place - flips between being morally righteous and betraying her own values, not comfortable in her own skin ( emotionally and physically), longs obsessively to be accepted, a good listener but a taker - anxious, somewhat delusional.
A *little* about Cara: Affable - assertive and charismatic - talkative - self-assured - gregarious. Her mother, Isabel’s dreams were without desired resolution ..... and the apple didn’t fall far from the tree with her either. Cara was a yummy cook - messy housekeeper - fun energy - beautiful - dreamed of moving to Italy. Saying more about Cara might tempt me to write spoilers. So that’s enough.
A *little* about Peter: He has a fairly pleasant disposition. He ‘seems’ caring - nice - balanced - just don’t let anything fool you. Nice and balanced aren’t theme words for this novel.
A *little* about Lynton House: The mansion including The entrance hall, music room, drawing room, gun room, sitting room, dining hall, smoking room, billiards room, saloon, And 10 bed and dressing rooms, five bathrooms, and staff accommodation. Seated in a magnificent Timbered Park of 764 acres with ornamental lake, Fountain, Parterre, Walled kitchen garden, classical bridge, orangey of outstanding design, stable block, model dairy, ice house, Grotto, Mausoleum, Sundry Follies inc. Obelisk etc., and range of outbuildings. Pretty cool - right? - but remember this house isn’t sparkling. Only two bathrooms are working in the entire house - with questionable plumbing at that.
Frances hoped she would discover a Palladian Bridge more elegant than those at Wilton or Prior Park...... but.....it was not as she hoped. Yet ....walking by the lake or through the woods that were dense and spongy - undisturbed for years - had a quiet type ‘elegance’ with a gothic type of appreciation.
Peter Cara and Frances begin to spend a lot of time together - eating - drinking and smoking. DON’T think for one minute that I’m going to share anything of much importance ..... “All priest have a duty to secrecy”, reviewers do too. 🤫
Suspense - beautiful prose with compelling characters ( Frances as the unreliable narrator), with depth so layered and complex - that I found it awe-inspiring.
Love it - hate it - or are lukewarm about it - you DO KEEP THINKING ABOUT IT!!!
I loved it! Claire Fuller has become a solid favorite author for me.
Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller is a 2018 Tin House Books publication.
This one may be an acquired taste for some, but I felt this one all the way down to my toes.
During 2018, I found myself reaching, more than ever before, for more comforting, light and easy, 'feel good' books to soothe my troubled soul. But I do still have a huge tendency to gravitate towards darker, troubling, moody or heavily laden novels, and especially love it when I pick up on a Gothic tone intertwined in there, as well.
This novel has all these elements, but also asks the reader to work a few things out on their own. So, while this book certainly stimulates the senses, it also gives the brain a little exercise, too.
As Frances lay on her death bed, she is often visited by an old friend, a vicar, who gently, but urgently, coaxes her into relaying back to him what really happened in the year 1969. This is the year Frances was hired to do research at Lyntons, a once grand estate in Hampshire, which now lies in ruins. Frances is staying on the estate with a couple named Peter and Cara, who are also doing research work.
I am obdurate and uncooperative, drifting on a sea of memory between islands of lucidity.
As the three of them settle in together, Frances, who has spent the bulk of her adult life caring for her mother, is suddenly overwhelmed by the prospect of being friends with the Cara and Peter. Cara is usually quite willing to regale Frances with stories of how she and Peter met, and the complicated route they took which eventually landed them at the dilapidated estate. She also shares with Frances the tragic events in her life which have left her feeling fragile and unstable. But her tales are often fantastical, and Peter tries to downplay her outlandish claims, leaving Frances unsure of who or what to believe.
But the world is a nicer place when you think everyone is telling the truth. There are no agendas, no hidden motives; no one lies for dramatic effect.
Right away I was drawn in by the beautiful prose, which sucked me right into the pages and held me there, as I listened to Frances’ tale unfold, tingling with both anticipation and dread. However, the story initially unfolds in frustratingly slow pace, and the book's structuring is occasionally jarring. Other than that, this atmospheric and thought- provoking novel held me completely spellbound.
I loved the metaphors and allegory, the history, the mild supernatural suggestions, and that shocking conclusion caps it all off, beautifully. The author did such an amazing job with creating vivid characterizations and that deliciously thick, but tantalizing atmosphere. Frances' clever narrative and detailed storytelling adeptly and successfully lured me willingly along to a wickedly stunning and unforeseeable outcome.
Clair Fuller is an author I will be keeping a very close eye on!
"I am the person who stands at the police tape watching someone's life unravel." —Frances Jellico
Prickly old lady, Frances Jellico, lies dying in an 'end-of-life' facility of some kind. She is visited by Victor, a seemingly dubious vicar (yes, Victor the vicar), who hopes to extract a confession from Frances for a hitherto-unspecified crime. So, with the 'enigmatic beginning' box firmly ticked, Frances goes on to recall the English summer of '69 and a ramshackle country home whose crumbling grandeur serves as a metaphor for what is to follow.
Miss Jellico, our unworldly main protag, is one of life's bystanders when it comes to hugging, kissing and general frivolity. Therefore it comes as a great surprise - not least of all to Frances - that she becomes friends with cool hedonists, Cara and Peter. While Frances thrives academically, her social skills are decidedly wooden: Cara and Peter, on the other hand, are captivating, outgoing and friendly.
But all is not what it seems. Why the sinister undertones? And what will become of this improbable friend triangle?
This book has the feel of one written several decades ago, so kudos to Claire Fuller for that, especially as it perfectly suits the period. Fuller is clearly an accomplished writer; her narrative style reminding me very much of Anita Brookner's. This wouldn't be for everyone though; an eager reader is likely to lose patience with it. Though the story lacks the animation and pizzazz that I hope for in a novel (it simmers more than it boils), edgy, stylish writing, such as this, should always be celebrated.
I've heard it said that the devil is in the details. This novel not only has some great descriptive passages, but they are used in a way that draws the reader into the story, while also making this memorable. A limited amount of characters, Frances, near forty, a spinster who yearns for love, has spent over twenty years taking care of her mother. Cara, a young Irish woman, who loves everything Italian, and her partner Peter who seems to be Cara's anchor. Then lastly, but he appears near the beginning, is the churchman Victor, he tries to get the truth from Frances, twenty years later.
A crumbling house, unreliable narrators, one can never quite believe what they are being told. Indeed it is in the descriptions, the details and what is not being said that provide the clues. The suspense starts at a low boil, but ratchets upward as the book progresses. Always, again aided by the details, a face in a window, a dead bird, the sound of someone beneath the bath, a smell of urine, I felt a underlying sense of dread.
I enjoyed this book immensely, became lost in the characters story, never knowing quite what was going on, who was telling the truth, and what was being hidden. A key theme is obsession and even though right in the beginning we know how one character ends up, we don't know why, we do know these type of stories seldom end well. It seems, unless I missed something, that a few threads remained unanswered. Surprisingly, that didn't at all dim my appreciation for this wonderful work.
As she lies in her bed awaiting death, she looks back on her life and that summer in 1969 which left its mark on her forever.
Frances Jellico was the caretaker for her Mother for the last ten years of her mother's life. When her Mother died, Frances went to live at an old crumbling estate/manor called the Lyntons to research the architecture of the gardens. Frances will not be alone at the Lyntons. An intriguing couple, Cara and Peter have also moved in. Peter has been tasked with evaluating the contents of the estate for the American Buyer. It just so happens that they have the room below and Frances has discovered that by moving the floorboard, she can spy on the couple below. Scandalous!
Frances is the sole narrator and it is interesting to see things from her point of view. As she spent most of her life with her mother, she is slightly awkward, naive, and lacking in life experiences that one might have by the age of thirty-nine years old (as she is in 1969). Frances is happy when the young couple invite her into their lives. She is invited to spend time with them and soon the three of them spend most of their time together. Frances also makes friends with the local Vicar, who is questioning his faith while his congregation diminishes each week.
As this book does not have many characters and most of the time is spent at the Manor, there is not a lot of action in this book. I found this to be a slow read with just enough plot development occurring to keep my interest. I struggled initially with this book but around the 30-35 percent mark, things picked up for me. The days pass in this book in a slow and lazy fashion and I found that is also how I read this book. Remember, Frances is looking back on her life in this book, and I often wondered what was so great about being at the Lyntons that had her still thinking about it after so many years? Well, my fellow readers, keep reading!
I am glad that I did not review this book right away. I took some time to think about the book and I am happy that I did. This story slowly seeped into me and I found myself thinking about it from time to time upon finishing the book. Have you ever read a book and felt "meh" while reading it and then can't get the book out of your head? That was me! I discovered that I enjoyed it more than I thought I did. I am used to page turners which I can power read and which keep me on the edge of my seat. This is not that type of book. This is a book which, as I said, slowly seeps into the reader. With so few characters, the story really is character driven. The pace is slower, but this book did have some "reveals" and revelations. There were some plots twists and turns at the end. Nothing too shocking but the reveals pack enough punch to create some tension and small shocks.
Going back to Frances, she was a very interesting character. I kept wondering if she just repressed or is there more going on with her? Is she a reliable narrator? Is she so desperate for companionship that it is affecting her judgement? Plus, Peter and Cara have their own issues both individually and with each other. Cara is another interesting character and she kept me scratching my head. If I could have known another character's POV, I would have loved to have known Cara's thoughts. Most of what we (and Frances) learn about Peter and Cara is told to Frances by Cara. But is she reliable? Frances has enough interactions with Peter to learn that some things may not be as they seem. Or is he unreliable? Then there is the Vicar with his own issues and his friendship with Frances. It's safe to say that all the characters have issues and it was interesting watching them orbit each other and get involved in each other's worlds.
Thank you to Tin House books and Edelweiss for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions in this book are my own.
A dying woman’s memory of 1969, the summer in which she lived with a mysterious couple in a crumbling English country house, is delivered with a perpetual air of dreaminess.
Bitter Orange opens strong, with echoes of Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier: A dilapidated estate that extends into shadows, being choked by a garden run wild, and a woman named Frances whose life is mechanical, faithless, stagnant. She’s repressed by a lack of physical interaction and so consumed with loneliness that when she happens upon a judas hole in her bathroom floor – one that provides a secret view into her downstairs neighbors’ bathroom – curiosity pricks at her mind. It’s the perfect setup for a voyeuristic mystery fraught with tension and secrets.
But Frances soon shifts her focus from watching her neighbors to interacting with them. They form an odd little (non-physical) ménage à trois that showcases Frances’ social shortcomings and draws readers into a tedious exploration of teasing fact from fiction, an exercise that leaves several small details unexplained. The final insult is an unsurprising “reveal.”
Fuller packs Bitter Orange with bursts of luscious prose, and reoccurring imagery of threes, along with perpetual references to the capriciousness of water, hint at what’s to come. She moves seamlessly from the present to the past, abandoning “chronology in favour of waves of memory.” But, remove the telescopic peephole and the narrative remains the same, making Frances’ judas hole nothing more than a gimmick to give an uneventful tale some much-needed allure.
"He strokes my hair and doesn't answer, or I haven't spoken. Perhaps he believes that pain as well as joy makes us who we are."
I had no idea what a haunting, creative storyline this would be that would find itself hidden behind that gorgeous cover. Claire Fuller carves her words into a deftly atmospheric telling surrounded by the lush English countryside. As the reader leans in, the fragrance of tart, over-ripened fruit fills the air. And there are plenty of sharp-edged seeds hiding within the fleshy pulp.
It's 1969 and three individuals will find themselves drawn to an ancient Lyntons mansion. A rich American has bought the property and is in the midst of traveling. Frances, fortyish and unmarried, will take to the grounds in order to sketch ideas for architectual renovations. Cara and Peter have already taken over the first floor. Peter has been assigned the task of taking inventory of the mansion's vast holdings.
Fuller has been blessed with the rare ability to craft her characters with patterns of life bruises and flaws seen readily by others on the exterior. But it is the darkened passageways of the soul that she stirs gently, at first, and most rigorously as the story deepens. We find Frances still suffering from the loss of her wicked, controlling mother. Peter keeps an attending eye on Cara who seems to drift into long and winding stories of her past life which may or may not be true. Their unexpected friendship will take on a neediness lined with pure fascination. Lines will be crossed and consequences will find their way in.
Have patience with this one. It begins with slow burning embers. It has the warm fiery glow of symbolism as the story unfolds. Your eye will catch them as the story progresses and how they reflect the characters' past lives. The wind tunnel of events are brilliantly saved for the grand finale.
Bitter Orange, just as the title suggests, may not be for everyone. You'll see that in the split of the reviews. But the writing is stellar and the low simmer is purposefully set by this talented author. And it just begs for discussion at the end......
Bitter Orange held me guilty enthralled like a voyeur peeping into the private lives of strangers, often with my heart palpitating with anxiety.
Ms Frances Jellico, a 59-year-old woman, lay dying in an unspecified institution attended by care assistants and a vicar. The latter is there both to offer comfort and to extract a confession from her for a wrongdoing yet unknown. In the fog of her fast failing memory, Frances retains vivid recollections of a simmering summer in 1969, twenty years ago, which changed her life forever.
The use of first-person narration brings the reader up close to Frances (Fran). She has a painful story to tell and I felt as if I were drawn into her confidence. Fran is a socially awkward, single, sheltered woman who has no friends. She looks at women with their children and wonders ’what trick of makeup or hairstyle or conversation’ she has missed in her youth to deprive her of husband and children. When her bedridden mother whom she was nursing died, Fran left London on a new job assignment in hopes of a new beginning.
A writer of obscure historical articles, Fran is hired by the owner of Lyntons, a grand, neoclassical English mansion, to catalogue the garden’s architecture and furnish a report. She is given free board and elated for the chance to uncover a Palladian bridge over the lake. Fran takes an attic room in this dilapidating manor house and meets Peter Robertson and Cara Calace, a bohemian couple living directly in the room below. Like her, Peter is hired by Lyntons’ American owner to catalogue the interior of the house.
Given that Fran has never had a friend, I shared her elation when the couple makes an effort to know her and includes her in their activities. Soon she is eating and drinking with them, sharing their cigarettes, and exploring the expansive Lynton mansion. She is clearly smitten by this cool couple: handsome Peter and charming Cara. In her attic bathroom floor, Fran stumbles on
Fran soon learns that all is not well with her new friends who fight and quarrel frequently. Cara becomes increasingly worrisome with her frequent crying and meltdowns. In time, Cara begins to share with Fran secrets of her life with Peter. It is not surprising that the relationship amongst the trio begins to fray at the seams when Fran and Cara unwittingly drift into a competition for Peter’s attention. The subtle shifts in emotions and suppressed longing are captured with consummate skill and I shuddered at what was to follow knowing as I did how this story began.
There is clever use of imagery in this atmospheric novel. In Lyntons is an orangery where the oranges cannot be eaten. They are dry and bitter. Bitter orange aside, there is also a motif of eyes and spy holes in this story.
Lyntons, the crumbling old manor house, is itself an enigmatic character. Previously requisitioned by the army during the world war, it has seen better days. Its fireplaces have been ripped out; books lay mouldy in the library; there are holes in the walls and floorboards; dead birds appear in the attic; pipes rattle at night; a poltergeist lurks within its walls like an unseen guest. It messes with the frail mental states of poor Fran and Cara. Spacious, yet spooky, sinister, and strangely claustrophobic. I would have run for my life.
From Fran’s ‘confession’ to the vicar and her recollections of the conversations she had with Cara from twenty years ago, one learns regrettably the secrets that shape the trio’s destiny.
Read Bitter Orange. This is my first book by Claire Fuller and it will not be my last.
3★ “ It was so hard to get it right, the way other people had conversations, back and forth with no effort. I wondered, not for the first time, how it was done. . . . . . . she thanked me for listening, and I saw it was that easy, that was all I had to do to make a friend; she wasn’t looking for answers.”
Frances lived for years in a small flat she shared with her ungracious, ungrateful invalid mother. As a young woman, she didn’t cross paths with people often so never really learned the social niceties.
“Four shop people spoke to me with a ‘good morning’, or a ‘thank you’ as they handed over my items or change. I liked to count these things. More than seven was a good day.”
She is also heavy and awkward - we know her well, either from our own lives or many other stories. But she is telling us this herself as she’s wasting away in a hospital bed. As an old lady, she can be quite clever and sneaky, hinting at secrets a visiting vicar keeps waiting for her to reveal but keeping them from him and us.
She reminisces about the time she spent at Lyntons, a grand old country manor of countless rooms, where she was cataloguing the “follies” and value of some of the pieces for its new American owner. She was hoping he’d come and renovate it, but she’s not the only one there.
There is a couple, Peter and Cara, who are living there—let’s be clear, they are all camping there—while Peter is cataloguing the artwork. The vicar was a man she met in the local church who seems pretty interested in her and her “friends”.
This was a kind of interesting premise, although I have to say I thought immediately of young Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby, who is sort of “adopted” by his cousin Daisy and her husband and friends and eventually, the wealthy Jay Gatsby, who hosts lavish parties. Daisy fixes Nick up with a friend of hers, but Nick ends up as a sort of intermediary between Daisy and Jay, who is besotted with her.
it’s a familiar scenario, where a younger (usually) person acts as a kind of excuse for a would-be couple to interact. Whether it’s adults in a park watching their kids or a teen couple offering to take a little brother to the movies, so they have an excuse to hang out.
In this story, Frances is a kind of sounding board for both Cara, who is a wild and free Irish girl, and Peter, who is older than Cara and closer in age to Frances. They welcome her to the “home”, show her to her room in the attic, and she tries to settle in.
But there are noises, smells, sounds, and some odd sightings. It’s a setting that is more gothic than Gatsby, but the mystery and intrigue of this one didn’t hit the mark for me. I enjoyed Swimming Lessons last year more than some other readers, and I'm sure there are others who will really enjoy this one. I still liked her writing, which ranges from poetic to amusingly insightful. And I did feel for Frances, caught up as she was by her fantastic new friends.
“There was no wind that afternoon, the lake was a new penny lost in an unmown lawn, and the unseen birds that chirped and twittered in the bushes didn’t disturb a twig. I lowered myself to the concrete – it is never easy for a large woman to sit on the floor, especially one wearing a girdle. She must fold her legs beneath her as a horse does, and there comes a moment where she has to let go and drop, and hope it will work out all right.”
Also true of unfit, older people too! Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Books for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted.
I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting from Bitter Orange but the story was different than whatever that was. A sense of impending doom built as the book progressed and eventually it becomes obvious something big and tragic occurs, but the how remains in question.
It’s 1969 and 39-year old Frances takes a job at Lyntons, a rundown country mansion. She is tasked with assessing the architecture throughout the property. Also staying there for related work projects are Peter and his girlfriend, Cara. Frances has had a limited social life and knows no true friends. Up until this point, she’s spent most of her life caring for her ill mother who recently passed away. To her surprise and delight, Cara and Peter invite her to join them for dinner one night and insist she must continue to dine with them while they’re all staying in the house. Their friendship forms but all is not what it seems. There’s serious tension between Peter and Cara, and due to her limited social life, Frances is often unsure how to navigate these quarrels.
Little work is actually getting done at Lyntons as the trio dines and relaxes, and Cara tells stories upon stories to Frances that are often missing details or include contradicting information. As the reader, Cara’s stories were the most tedious, unenjoyable part of the book and I found myself skimming through them after the first few.
Bitter Orange was a slow burn and it almost took too long to get to the big reveal of how what happened actually occurred. The how is what kept me going - I had to find out! It’s a dark story with interesting, though not necessary likable, characters. Not for everyone and not a favorite of mine but still a decent book.
How many of these old ass reviews can I possible have left, you might ask? Well . . . . .
Or at least it seems. I read Bitter Orange nearly a month ago but never posted anything due to the fact that . . . .
Does everybody else struggle with finding something to say about 2 and 3 Star books as much as I do?
To begin with, this was yet another selection I immediately requested from the library simply because it was all over Instagram and had a pretty cover. I actually perused the blurb a tad for a change before reading and saw that it was supposed to be some psychological thriller about a voyeuristic neighbor who finds a peephole that allows her to spy on her downstairs neighbors. Now if you know me you know that made me all like . . . . .
The story here is presented by our narrator Frances. Currently confined to a hospital bed while she slowly deteriorates from some form of wasting disease, Frances recalls one unforgettable summer spent at a dilapidated manor home she shared with another couple – Peter and Cara. They had been hired to document everything within the interior, she had been hired to research its garden architecture. At least one, if not all, would prove to be an unreliable narrator.
Sounds great, right? And really it is . . . just not in the way I was expecting. There weren’t many thrills contained in this thriller, but somehow it didn’t really end up mattering much to me. The writing was absolutely lyrical, causing me to somehow picture a time like this . . . .
Only to have some sort of reminder jolt me back to the reality that I was really supposed to be in a time. . . .
If you’re looking for something atmospheric, this might be a winner for you. If you want to really feel like you’re in on the peepin’ of the neighbors, I might go with Watching You instead.
Tantalizing and atmospheric, Bitter Orange follows a lonely woman, approaching middle age, who becomes friends with a puzzling couple while working on a garden survey of a mansion in ruins. Gradually, each of their stories are revealed. The development of their relationship, revealed with Fuller's lush prose, makes for a gripping, haunting read.
I received an ARC of this book for free from the publisher (Tin House Books) in exchange for an honest review.
I give this book 3.5 stars which rounds up to 4.
The best part of this book is the atmosphere that Claire Fuller creates with her prose. This book gave me the creeps which I wast totally not expecting. It was so eerie and I got a haunted house vibe from it at times. Fuller uses lush language to create an astonishing portrait of a crumbling English countryside mansion. She really makes the setting come alive and gives it a character of its own.
As for the storyline, I didn’t find it to be as twisty as I had expected it to be. Some of the blurb reviews on the back made it seem like it was going to be shocking but it ended up being more subdued. The twists are more blink and you’ll miss rather than in your face.
The three main characters were all very fascinating. They were all very nuanced and well crafted. However, I didn’t feel like I really got to fully know who Cara and Peter really were. I was waiting for a big a-ha moment to come but it never really happened. I’m still left with a lot questions about their relationship and what really happened between them.
Overall, this was a gorgeously written novel with dynamic characters, a stunning setting and an intriguing mystery.
It's the summer of 1969, and Frances Jellico is at Lyntons, a decaying country house: once grand, stripped of its treasures during wartime. Having seen some pieces Frances has written for an academic journal, the new owner, Liebermann, has employed her to assess a bridge that sits in the grounds. But she's not alone: Liebermann has also commissioned Peter Robertson to make an inventory of the house's remaining contents, and he arrives with his partner, Cara. They're a carefree, glamorous pair – in stark contrast to Frances. Lonely and awkward, she has spent the past decade caring for her ailing mother, and has never had a romantic relationship or even a close friend.
As the summer wears on, Frances finds herself – to her own incredulity and delight – growing close to Peter and Cara. The trio abandon their work in favour of drinking, smoking, swimming in the lake, having long conversations over Cara's indulgent dinners, and for the first time Frances feels wanted. Yet there's something off-key about these seemingly idyllic days. Cara tells wild and strange tales about her background, culminating in a claim so outrageous it can only be a lie, but one she appears to sincerely believe. Frances sees faces at windows and hears movement in empty rooms. In one memorably disturbing detail, she finds a once-elaborate room at Lyntons uniquely defaced: every painted peacock, from floor to ceiling, has had its eyes carefully cut out.
Frances tells this story from a later perspective. In her present day, she is twenty years older and confined to a hospital bed, possibly (we are not told directly) terminally ill. The effect, naturally, is to suggest looming disaster in Frances's recollections, and it is not surprising when dark revelations rise to the surface. I think the story would have been just as strong without some of its twists, though I did enjoy reading them. What I liked most was joining the dots between Frances's 'hauntings' and her family history, puzzling out how her account might not quite be the truth – something often obscured by the more obvious fictions in Cara's stories. Fuller does a fine job of balancing what Frances believes about herself with the reality of what happened, and only when you come to the end do you understand how carefully the competing narratives have been interlaced.
Bitter Orange joins the scores of unreliable-narrator novels about a solitary person forming an infatuation with an individual, couple, or family: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, Gillespie and I by Jane Harris, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller, Alys, Always by Harriet Lane, A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth, to name a few. The structure – with Frances reaching the end of her life and looking back on her most significant times, confessions unfurling as she does so – also reminded me of The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry and The Offering by Grace McCleen. If you like any of the aforementioned, you will likely get plenty of enjoyment out of this.
It might sound like I'm providing an unnecessarily long list of similar books, and that leads me to the main reason I didn't fall completely under the spell of this story: it's like a lot of other stories. Most of all, it made me think of Anita Brookner's Look At Me. Both Look At Me and Bitter Orange are narrated by a lonely woman named Frances, in early middle age or thereabouts (the age of Brookner's Frances isn't clear) whose imposing and dominant mother has recently passed away and whose only pleasures are found in academic pursuits. In both books, the main character is drawn into the orbit of an attractive, volatile couple whom she adores but who – the reader can see – treat her as an amusing plaything at best, an object of ridicule at worst. Now, I'm sure this is coincidental (if Fuller was consciously inspired by Brookner's novel, I can't imagine she'd give the protagonist the same name!) but it did blunt my enjoyment a little bit, especially since Look At Me is one of the best books I have read, and almost everything else pales in comparison.
Never mind that: Bitter Orange has lots to recommend it, with a sympathetic, yet mildly devious, protagonist, an irresistible premise, and even some little touches of magical realism. The atmosphere it conjures up is especially good for sultry summer days; Lyntons rises from the pages as vividly as a memory.
(But do also read Look At Me, if you haven't.)
I received an advance review copy of Bitter Orange from the publisher through Edelweiss.
DNF - No rating - Will not be included in my 2018 reading challenge.
I have been reading this book off and on for about 5 hours now. I'm only on page 80 and at least 20 of those I have had to skim. Frances may be fascinated with her neighbors, Peter & Cara, but I couldn't be more uninterested. I did cheat and read the spoilers to find out what the big conclusion would be and while the ending sounds interesting (and shocking!) there is just no way I'd be able to slog my way to it.
This book has some really wonderful reviews and I believe a more patient reader than I will be rewarded.
A perfect heatwave read, Claire Fuller’s third novel tells the suspenseful story of the profligate summer of 1969 spent at a dilapidated English country house. Frances Jellico, who seems to be on her deathbed in a care home, recalls for the chaplain, her friend Victor Wylde, the August 20 years ago when she stayed at Lyntons, a neoclassical mansion in Hampshire, to report on the garden architecture for the new American owner, a Mr. Liebermann. Frances was an awkward 39-year-old at that time; having spent 10 years caring for her ill mother up to her recent death, she’d never had a romantic relationship or even a real friendship. So when she got to Lyntons and met Peter Robertson, who was to survey the house and its fittings, and his girlfriend Cara Calace, a melodramatic Anglo-Irish woman who tried to pass as Italian, Frances instantly latched on to their attractively hedonistic lifestyle and felt, for the first time, as if she had people who cared about her and genuinely liked her.
I was a relative latecomer to Fuller’s work, but Swimming Lessons turned out to be one of my favorite novels of last year and I quickly caught up on her debut, Our Endless Numbered Days (2015), which won the Desmond Elliott Prize. If you’re familiar with her first novel you’ll know she’s a master of the unreliable narrator, and here there are two: Frances herself, but also Cara, who tells Frances about her past in Ireland in long monologues that start to beggar belief. Peter warns Frances that Cara is a fantasist, but Frances wants to accept her new friend’s superstition-laced stories. She’s more than half in love with both Peter and Cara. As the trio have lavish picnics on the house’s grounds and ransack the forgotten on-site museum for furniture for their bedrooms and clothes to play dress-up in, the foreshadowing makes you wonder how long it will be before this dissolute interlude shades into tragedy.
Bitter Orange reminded me most of the lowering Gothic feel of books by Daphne du Maurier and Iris Murdoch (especially The Italian Girl, but there’s also a mention of a fish’s severed head, and a couple of times Frances says she feels as if she’s in a play), but I’d also recommend it to readers who’ve enjoyed recent work by Emma Donoghue, Tessa Hadley, Sarah Perry and Sarah Waters. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Fuller’s two previous books: it feels a bit less original, and the symbolism of the orange tree and the various animal appearances is rather heavy-handed. But the characters and atmosphere are top-notch. It’s an absorbing, satisfying novel to swallow down in big gulps on a few of these hot summer days.
“It seemed threatening now, the empty rooms and dusty spaces sinister, when so recently I had thought it beautiful. I couldn’t help but believe it was playing tricks on me, trying to send me mad or drive me away.”
“I had thought I would like living life to the maximum, I had thought I would enjoy being unconstrained and reckless, but I learned that it is terrifying to look into the abyss.”
A dilapidated estate makes a perfect setting. The author is a pro at descriptives, though maybe to a fault. This is an uneventful tale, literally. This plot is sorely lacking in ACTION or EVENTS to keep this reader interested. I skimmed so many pages of descriptives, waiting for something to happen, (though never in a suspenseful way, but in boredom.) 315 pages of mostly nothing but descriptives with an occasional conversation. An event happens in the last 20 pages that is supposed to be a twist or shocking, but it fell flat for me and it was not a surprise at all. The entire plot was lacking and needed more work--descriptives do not drive a plot, action and events do.
Consider the bitter orange tree. From a distance, the fruits look luscious and ripe and juicy. But for those who actually try them, the taste is old, dried up, bitter, and in desperate need of a little sugar.
Bitter orange may be a metaphor for Frances’ life. Approaching 40, Frances has spent most of her adult life nursing her mother and is finally freed. When offered a chance to research the architecture of Lyntons, a dilapidated English country house, she jumps at the opportunity. Yet quickly, she becomes obsessed with the couple who live in the rooms below her attic room—the quixotic and troubled Cara and the enticing Peter. As the three of them become hedonistically interwined, it becomes increasingly evident that secrets will be revealed and that the ending will not bode well. We just don't know how it will all play out.
The Lyntons mansion is as much a character as Frances, Cara and Peter with lush and atmospheric descriptions of the house and the grounds. Through the exactitude of Claire Fuller’s prose, it’s almost impossible not to visualize the setting, smell the scent of oranges, and taste the lavish dinners that Cara bakes.
Although we’ve seen this set-up before—a triangle of characters with one or more unreliable narrators, an inexperienced and repressed woman liberated by her sensuous companions and surroundings—the book still is compelling. Do actions portray our true nature? Does he or she who develops the most compelling story “win? And is everything that appears to be sweet ultimately rot or decay? You’ll have no trouble succumbing to the book’s ample charms. 4.5.
Frances Jellisco, homely, lonely, starved for attention and affection, overweight and quite naive to social interactions. She comes to Lyntons Manor/Estate, to architecturally research and investigate the gardens, grounds and a supposed bridge.
Frances has a pretty solitary childhood and it was basically she and her caustic, inflammatory mother, once her father departed from their lives, running off with Frances’ aunt. That was a major trauma in her and her mothers’ life; they lived together and remained totally dependent on the father/husband for living quarters and expenses.
Frances has taken care of her mother who declined in health for years. It was not at all a positive, loving experience, but she stoically did it, after all, it’s her mother and Frances felt she had to take care of her. It actually reads like a long, thankless, unending chore. Frances has no life of her own. She has no friends.
When mother dies, Frances decides to move on, move forward, and finds out about a part time opportunity to the Lyntons Manor and Estate and is accepted. Also accepted are Carla and Peter, who temporarily reside one floor beneath Florence and are quite emotional and loud and we don’t really get their whole story straight until later on. They both have issues, as does Frances, but they befriend each other and spend lots of time together every day, eating, drinking excessively, smoking cigarettes, talking, exploring the crumbling estate and it’s overgrown gardens and boarded up rooms, once occupied by the army. Creepy peacock infused wallpaper with the birds eyes cut out. A grown over secret door to the museum where rare artifacts are found and used in their daily lives or sold for money. In the meantime, there’s so much partying and exploring by these three, that the work that they were instructed to perform is not done.
Carla is loud, very confident, but she lies; likes to tell stories and changes them so as no one knows what is true and what is not. Peter is a serious type, but does not back up her stories and he’s also got some other secrets of his own. Frances, so removed from affection and attention for all these years, gets drawn in physically and emotionally into their threesome. Which to the reader, there are warning flags a-waving. Peter disappears for days at a time and near the end, returns with much lavish food and money. Carla has some odd behaviorial characteristics and her relationship with Peter is a question. Frances flirts with Carla. Frances flirts with Peter. Frances also flirts with the vicar, Victor. The attention and admiration is an overload for her and she just gets totally sucked in.
There are some strange things going on in the Lyntons Estate. I enjoyed reading about the estate in itself. The total neglect and abandonment. The previous use of some of the estate for the military. The old found furniture and artifacts, the rackety plumbing, Odd noises, the decrepit orangery, the old church, churchyard and the crypts. The overgrown bridge and lake.
Ah, the end - it was well done, I thought.
An orange as we know, is juicy and sweet. This particular story, and the odd, short relationship of these three people, is fleetingly sweet at the beginning, but with much sour and bitter at the end. 4 stars!
At first this book put me in mind of Penelope Lively's style - a character, near death, lies reminiscing about a long ago, life-altering incident, but when an air of menace wafted into the proceedings, it seemed like Patricia Highsmith all the way. And, indeed, there's something of a Mr. Ripley feel to this tale of a tangled threesome, though there's more of a mystery in Fuller's book as to who's going to do what to whom . . . and when.
Here we have one man and two women - a couple and an interloper - sharing a crumbling estate.
Everyone has something to hide.
This is a languid and slow burning novel. Fuller has an innate sense of just the right moment to let slip a little secret to yield the most impact. I found this to be the perfect summer read.
Don't let Fuller's sweet little elfin face fool you - this woman is diabolical! And, DAMN, can she ever write!
Clair Fuller’s first novel Our Endless Numbered Days utterly captured me with its strange tale of a father and daughter living out his survivalist fantasy for years alone in the woods and its bizarre aftermath. (Fortunately not at all like Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling’s repulsive treatment of a similar theme.) But Swimming Lessons, Claire Fuller’s second novel, failed to catch fire for me, perhaps because both the characters and the setting were very damp. The latest, Bitter Orange, is un-put-downable gripping though one would expect the principal character to be a drab. Frances presently lays dying in a palliative care unit and her memory keeps returning to the events of the summer of 1969 when her dull life took an unexpectedly exciting turn. Her mother finally died after Frances has spent years as her principal caregiver, barely maintaining a career as an architectural historian. Then she was hired by an American millionaire who had acquired a ruined mansion in Hampshire called Lyntons to appraise its grounds, probably to find valuable objets (such as a Palladian bridge) that could be dismantled for shipping overseas. But Frances finds she is sharing the place with a younger couple. Peter is an antiques dealer, his task to value the furnishings of the house, of which there appear to be none as the army wrecked the place when they requisitioned it during the war. (Sort of like in Brideshead Revisited.) Cara is an extravert given to voluble exclamations in Italian and preparing elaborate meals with nowhere to sit and nothing to eat off of but lots to drink. They look the ideal fun couple. Is Frances – who seems straight out of a novel by Barbara Pym or Anita Brookner — finally going to ‘get a life’ after all?
Then things start turning darker. Under the floorboards of Frances’s attic bathroom is a small telescope set as a spy glass to peer into the bathroom below that Cara and Peter share. Cara isn’t an Italian at all; she’s actually Irish and grew up in a smaller Ascendancy rattled ruin and the seeming fun-couple’s relationship reveals deep fissures. Peter is actually married to someone else whom he is still supporting. Cara is also a total fantasist with a lost baby in her past for which she gives utterly bizarre accounts. Then they discover ‘The Museum’ – the hiding place from the army for all the family valuables and jewellery. They have no key. To get in Peter has to take a sledgehammer to the door. Suddenly the three of them have furniture, tables and chairs and plates to eat off of. And being an antiques dealer, Peter knows how to turn hot artefacts into cold cash. What does Frances do? Does she write her employer and tell him about the treasure trove’s being looted? Of course she responds as I would have done (at least when I was younger) …
At this point I’d best leave the remainder of the story for the reader to discover. For me it was really affecting and disturbing, and yet like the best stories, perfectly appropriate and in character. It is fascinating how well Claire Fuller can use physical detail to create atmosphere, like the cabin in Our Endless Numbered Days and the huge piles of annotated books in Swimming Lessons. Here Frances’ botanical sampling knife, the telescope spy glass, the bridge covered with weeds, the memento-mori ring Cara adopts as a replacement wedding band, the cigarette case Peter gives Frances, the orange tree trapped in the glasshouse (which is also the name for a military prison) with its inedible fruit that gives the book a title, and the sledgehammer all play a sinister symbolic role in the tale. And the twists were so nicely prepared that they scarcely felt like twists and seemed to come just as they look inevitable.
Though Bitter Orange is definitely a five star, some nasty loose ends bother me and as the story runs on two tracks, past and present, to finality, I’ll always wonder about them. Tho’ Bitter Orange is excellent, it is not quite the book I still await from Claire Fuller. That is the sequel to Our Endless Numbered Days, where we encounter Peggy again, as an adult.
I think this novel must be the perfect summer read. I've enjoyed it immensely amidst Britain's recent heat wave as its themes and setting sync with this feverish weather. It's told from the perspective of elderly Frances who is lying on her deathbed. She recalls a hot summer in 1969 when she worked at a dilapidated English country estate alongside a mysterious couple. An American has purchased this crumbling residence and they've been hired to catalogue and assess any architectural items of worth prior to his arrival. The once grand place has been ravaged from being used by the military during times of war and neglect from a once privileged family who gradually completely died out. Although she was in her late thirties when she took this job, Frances was socially awkward and solitary because she had an isolated life with her mother who she cared for until she died. By contrast, the couple Peter and Cara are rambunctious and outgoing so the bond they form with Frances is unique in this odd removed location. It's a dramatic, creepy tale whose expertly paced narration teases out a lot of mystery and suspense.
This is a novel which presents many questions which linger after the “bitter” ending. The wonderfully descriptive writing describes the grounds of the once grand estate, which is now overrun with vines and grasses, ruined and ravaged gardens and outbuildings. Beautiful views are still seen from afar of the once picturesque outdoor setting and the now crumbling ruins of a once glamorous mansion. The three characters each had something to hide or escape, it seemed. Reading the novel, I had a sense of foreboding throughout. I was thinking this will not end well for Frances, a sheltered, socially awkward woman of age 39 years. I felt she may be taken advantage of by her more worldly, glamorous neighbors. Upon meeting the neighbors, Frances was dazzled by them, and they quickly developed a pattern of socializing with each other. I questioned the motives of the couple. Was it was leading up to a ménage a trois? Would Frances be swindled by con-artists? Subjected to manipulation or seduction? Or were they truly interested in her friendship? Frances, meanwhile, was enjoying this exciting friendship and began feeling the awakening possibility of some welcome change in her life. Her feelings for the couple quickly became an obsession after her discovery of a peephole in her bathroom, with which she could see into the neighbors’ bathroom. Frances was confused by signs of trouble in her new friends’ relationship, as well as by Peter’s misleading behavior. She found herself developing a crush on Peter, which provoked Cara’s mistrust. Much was hidden beneath the surface appearance of this beautiful couple. How well can we ever really know the mind of others? The characters have secrets and regrets which are not revealed. Some creative untruths are told to cover over secrets. Yet there is evidence Cara and Frances grapple with issues such as penance, atonement, and faith in an afterlife.
I did not understand this book. After posting this review I will read other people’s reviews and also read reviews from periodicals and newspapers if there are any such reviews. In the hopes of understanding the book. But that’s cheating…I should have gotten the gist of the book from the author herself (her written words). I have read many many books in my time, and feel frustrated after going through this 317-page novel, and not getting it. And I ask myself “Is it me?” because one reviewer likened this novel to Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’. I know I could be faulted for my failure to understand this book if I said “And you know, I didn’t understand a thing about ‘Rebecca’ too!!!” Nope, I understood that book and loved it. Perhaps there were key sentences I missed in this book that would make everything obvious regarding the plot line — if they were there then they were hidden to me.
There are four characters in this novel, Frances, the narrator, a couple Cara and Peter, and a vicar, Victor.
You know what I think was a problem with this book? Apparently the narrator was not truthful in her narrative. I get that. But then that means I had very little to fall back on to determine what was real versus what she was fabricating. In some novels there is an unreliable narrator which is part of the appeal to the novel, but in those cases enough clues are given elsewhere in the novel so that you know sooner or later what is really going on. In this case beats the hell out of me whether what Frances told the reader what other characters said or did was in fact what they said or did. In this novel the reader pretty much only had her word to rely on.
This was a disappointing read…there are some novels that one is perplexed throughout until nearly the end and then things are revealed where preceding events in the novel make sense. To me, this was not such a novel.
OK, so now I will go to reviews and post them, and you can decide if I am off my nut (always a distinct possibility) or if this is a book you should consider putting on your list of to be read: https://www.theguardian.com/books/201... (JimZ: good review…means I am stoopid ☹ )
Our narrator is near death and recalling the events of the summer of 1969 when she found herself at an abandoned country house. Despite her boozy sounding name, Fran Jellico is a 39 year old, thick around the middle, awkward, greying virgin barely held together with her mother's (who she's just lost) foundation garments. Suddenly she's thrown in with Peter and his mercurial wife Cara and despite not knowing how to meet people, make friends, and hold a conversation she manages to strike a summer friendship with the couple.
When it's done well, I'm happy to read a sun dappled and bittersweet recollection of a summer past, but there's something more going on here. From the very onset Fran remembers looking down from the upstairs peephole to a body, lying in the pinking water of a bathtub, eyes open and staring for too long.
Gothic elements from shadowy figures hovering in windows, mysterious noises and secret rooms are introduced. Cara seems deeply troubled and her and Peter's relationship is not what it seems on the surface. The two stories seem at odds but are pulled together beautifully keeping you off-balance and questioning like some high-literary thriller. Kazuo Ishiguro, meets Charlotte Bronte channelling Gillian Flynn. An unexpected surprise.
"We were all standing on the edge that day, at the very rim of the precipice, staring into the void. Something inside us wanted to see what it would be like to jump, just to find out what would happen - except that we knew that once we had jumped there would be no way back." -- Frances, page 386
Set in an English countryside mansion (think Downton Abbey . . . gone to seed and well past its glory years) during the balmy but eventful summer of 1969, Claire Fuller's Bitter Orange is a slow-burn of a mystery-suspense-drama with a spartan quartet of characters. The narrator is Frances Jellico, a spinster finally free from caring for her divorced and bedridden mother in London. Frances, now apparently experiencing a taste of true independence for the first time in her life, accepts a job assignment from the mansion's new American owner and takes up a temporary residence there.
At Lyntons, said mansion, she quickly meets two other 'residents' - Peter, also on assignment per the new owner, and his eccentric Irish paramour Cara. At first Frances keeps her distance - she's an introvert and quite reserved by nature - but soon the trio, after sharing many bottles of wine and singing along to Simon & Garfunkel's Bookends, become a sort of ad-hoc family. Of course, every family has its secrets. What exactly is going on between the evasive-seeming Peter and Cara?
Finally, there's Victor, the clergyman from the village (or "Victor the Vicar", as an amused Frances thinks to herself - they are of similar age), a WWII veteran who's faced with the triad of self-doubt, apathy, and a dwindling congregation. Victor is curious about this odd trio now inhabiting Lyntons.
Some readers may have found it too languid, but I actually liked the pacing for the first 200 or 300 pages. Frances slowly immerses herself in life at the mansion and in the sphere of Peter and Cara, and things appear to develop in the slow-but-natural way and curiosity of getting to know a complete stranger. But who is telling the truth? Or are they offering simply their opinion on a matter? Wisely, author Fuller leaves some plot threads deliberately unanswered or unclear, adding to the increasing dread. However, in the last thirty or so pages things really start to come together.
Refreshingly, Fuller also doesn't hang heavily on the summer of '69 setting as a simple excuse for nostalgia - other than a mention of the Apollo moon landing and the Beatles, I think it's used more for the effect of a pre-Internet / cell-phone world and a disconnected society. The main characters can move into a small village and there's a feeling of isolation, but not in the sense of a horror film.
Bitter Orange was unique and interesting, but it won't be for everyone - proceed with caution.
Thank you so much Tin House for my copy of BITTER ORANGE by Claire Fuller - all opinions are my own.
This is an atmospheric, haunting, and twisty story with beautiful language that will keep you captivated until the very end.
In the summer of 1969, Frances Jellico is commissioned by the new owner to survey and write a report of a dilapidated mansion located in the idyllic English countryside just outside of London. Frances leaves everything behind and settles into the mansion’s attic for the summer, but when she meets a young couple, Cara and Peter, staying in the space below her, she becomes intoxicated. Peter is there to evaluate the mansion’s contents but the three of them strike up a friendship with an abundance of wine, cigarettes, indulgent meals, and sunbathing that consumes their entire summer.
BITTER ORANGE is a tension building mystery with a sinister plot at its core. The sole narrator is Frances and she’s a bit unstable since the death of her mother. We see every moment and hear every sound through Frances. Her perception of the world is much narrowed due to her upbringing and her relationship with her mother. I found Frances melodramatic and I adored Cara. The setting is reminiscent of the works of Daphne du Maurier and Agatha Christie with the obscure village, old church, and mysterious graveyard. The house is filled with quiet whispers and unexplained shadows with madness and obsession that permeate throughout this eerie, modern classic.