“Pain as well as joy makes us who we are.”
Frances Jellico 1969 – nearing her fortieth birthday, she is socially inept and has never experienced love, or even a man’s attentions. She left her place at Oxford to take care of her mother. Bathing her, waiting on her hand and foot for over two decades. Her mother was not kind to Frances and though she loved her, she now views her mother’s recent death as freedom – yet what should she do??? She takes a position in Hampshire, assessing the state of the exterior garden and structures so that she might report back to the American man who recently purchased the old 764 acre estate called ‘Lyntons’.
When she arrives she discovers that there is a couple living in the house, also employed by the same man, who are to assess the interior state of the house. Requisitioned by the army during the war, there is a lot of damage – statuary broken or defaced, furniture and art plundered, fireplaces ripped out, mold, mildew… This couple, Peter and Cara, are fascinating to Frances. She becomes immersed in their hedonistic lifestyle and is delighted to have friends at last. They introduce her to indolence, drinking to excess, smoking, and volatile and sometimes intimate conversation. She discovers a peep hole in her bathroom floor that gives her a view of Peter and Cara’s most intimate moments.
Frances Jellico 1990 – now frail, weak, and terminally ill. She cannot dress or feed herself and is at the mercy of her carers. She is institutionalized. Fading in and out of lucidity, Frances casts her memory back to the summer of 1969 at Lyntons… A summer when a grave crime was committed.
My first thoughts after finishing “Bitter Orange” were: how sad, what a wasted life. My second thoughts were ‘how depressing’.
The fictional house of Lyntons, with its many secrets, was one which I might never forget. The author portrayed Lyntons in minute detail and it was the very epitome of ‘atmospheric’. In particular was the orangery on the grounds, a building that kept its own secrets.
This was a very slow read, as indolent as were the characters, yet I was compelled to keep reading to find out what was the crime that was committed? Why and when did it occur?
The author threw in a somewhat shocking revelation at about the three-quarters mark. This gave me pause and enticed me to continue on…
“Bitter Orange” explores themes of guilt, atonement, relationships, and duplicity.
This novel will not be to everyone’s taste. It was the very opposite of ‘up-lifting’. It was peopled with eccentric characters who seemed to be floundering through their lives. I’m not really sure what to make of the book to be honest. It was not a favourite read, yet I do think I’ll be thinking about it for some time to come. The writing was exquisite, yet the story was ultimately not to my taste.
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from
Tin House Books via Edelweiss.
ISBN: 9781947793156 ASIN: B07FTS44RG 320 pages
Claire Fuller is an award-winning novelist and short fiction writer. She studied sculpture at Winchester School of Art, then began writing fiction at the age of 40, after many years working as a co-director of a marketing agency. She has a Masters (distinction) in Creative and Critical Writing from The University of Winchester. She lives in Winchester, England with her husband, and a cat called Alan. She has two grown-up children.
Her three published novels: Our Endless Numbered Days (winner of the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction), Swimming Lessons (shortlisted for the Encore prize for second novels, and Livre de Poche prize in France), and the critically acclaimed Bitter Orange (longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award), have all been published by Fig Tree / Penguin (UK), Tin House (US), and House of Anansi (Canada). They have been translated into more than 15 languages.
Her fourth novel, Unsettled Ground, will be published in 2021.
Follow Claire Fuller on Twitter @ClaireFuller2