Bitter Orange By Claire Fuller – A Review

Publisher: Fig Tree Books/Penguin

Publication Date: 2nd August 2018

I hold my hands up. I was extremely jel when I saw people on Twitter showing off their beautiful proofs of this book. Like proper green eyed monster stuff. So when I saw that it was available to request on Netgalley I was straight in there like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe. Luckily I was approved (had a couple of knockbacks recently boooooo). And I started it straight away.

The story opens with Frances Jellico, our protagonist apparently incarcerated in some kind of institution nearing the end of her life. Suffering from a wasting disease and having conversations with a vicar that she vaguely recalls from her past.

Frances lapses back into the past during her medicated haze and takes the reader with her. We are transported back to the hot summer of 1969 when Frances is employed by a rich American man to survey the land and follies of a decrepit country house he has just purchased called Lyntons.

Frances has taken two of the attic rooms and soon discovers that there is a couple living in the downstairs quarters, Peter and Cara. Peter has been employed in a similar vein to Frances, and has been tasked with surveying and doing an inventory of the actual house itself.

Frances arrives with very few belongings and seems happy to live in the sparse rooms whilst carrying out her work. However, Peter and Cara soon prove to be a distraction with their seemingly tempestuous, complex relationship. Frances finds herself invited into their world, intoxicated by their slightly bohemian way of living. They regularly help themselves to the wine in the wine cellar and eat from crockery they have found in the house, not bothering to wash it up. Simply using new plates when necessary. They spend their days walking and swimming and most of all talking. They spend many evenings in an alcohol haze putting the world to rights.

Frances becomes a confidant to both Peter and Cara separately. Cara is a spirited Irish woman with an obsession with Italy and the Italian language. She has a troubled past and seems to want to unburden herself to Frances. However, Peter refutes some of the things Cara is telling Frances and has stories of his own to tell.

Frances gets taken in by both of them and becomes a little obsessed with being in their company and their world and finding out about their relationship dynamic. Believing their tales and struggling to understand who she should trust. What exactly happened to Cara in Ireland to make her so troubled? Why does Peter never want to leave her alone in the house?

It’s so very difficult to review this book without letting a myriad of plot points slip and ruining the entire structure of the story. There are so many layers to this book and so many topics covered.

The overriding themes are of loneliness, solitude, religion, theology, love, and guilt and it’s effects.

The characters in this story are just perfect. All essentially flawed and fascinating. This is by no means a long book but I tore through it, desperate to know how the ending was going to culminate but at the same time not wanting it to end at all.

I love stories where there is a creeping sense of something not being quite right, of something being ‘off’. A slow journey into an ultimate climax where the little things that haven’t been ‘quite right’ rush to make sense. I love when the ordinary becomes extraordinary and this book perfectly fits that bill.

I enjoyed the slight supernatural element, especially set against the backdrop of a crumbling mansion. Again, nothing too overt, just some things that weren’t ‘right’.

The depictions of the house and grounds were very detailed and within the first few pages I had Lyntons firmly in my minds eye. That’s a good indicator of whether I’m going to enjoy a book, whether I can be transported straight there very soon after starting to read.

I also enjoyed the short snappy paragraphs. I read this on my phone so I’m not sure what the physical finished copy and it’s layout will look like but the brief paragraphs which sometimes segued between past and present with no preamble were perfect. I found this represented Frances’s moments of lucidity excellently.

This is one of those books that I know I will be thinking about for a long time. I really want to buy a copy of it for everyone and put it into their hands. I really wanted to ditch work and just read it in one sitting but unfortunately money needs to be earned and bills need to be paid apparently!

I was put in mind of English Animals by Laura Kaye when I was reading this (another fabulous read) but it also had vibes of Du Maurier about it. It is fair to say I adored this book and it it most definitely a five star read. I can see it making my top ten books of the year.

Get yourselves a copy. You won’t regret it.

Thanks as always to the publisher for the arc.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

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