From the author of Our Endless Numbered Days and Swimming Lessons, Bitter Orange is a seductive psychological portrait—a keyhole into the dangers of longing and how far a woman might go to escape her past.
I am delighted to welcome the wonderful Irish writer/author Evie Gaughan today with her thoughts on Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller. I saw Evie gushing about this book over on Instagram so I asked if she would be kind enough to share her thoughts in a review for us all today. (Also I thought you might all enjoy someone else preaching the #booklove 🙂 ) So without futher ado, I’ll hand you over to Evie now. I do hope you enjoy. xx
[ About the Book ]
From the attic of a dilapidated English country house, she sees them – Cara first: dark and beautiful, clinging to a marble fountain of Cupid, and Peter, an Apollo. It is 1969 and they are spending the summer in the rooms below hers while Frances writes a report on the follies in the garden. But she is distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she discovers a peephole which gives her access to her neighbours’ private lives.
To Frances’ surprise, Cara and Peter are keen to spend time with her. It is the first occasion that 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 till 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 of that summer, a small crime brings on a bigger one: a crime so terrible that it will brand all their lives forever
[ Evie’s Review ]
Having read and thoroughly enjoyed her debut, Our Endless Numbered Days, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Claire Fuller’s third novel, Bitter Orange. Honorary mention must go to the cover designer here – her book covers are just gorgeous and this one is no exception. It is rich, lush and full of temptation, just like the story within.There has been a trend in literature of late to have an unexpected twist that ‘you’ll never see coming’ or an explosive first chapter igniting a story told at a frenetic pace. Bitter Orange is different. It takes it’s time and luxuriates in the space. It leans back and lets you come to it, instead of smacking you in the face. But be warned, this could be a false sense of security! What seems perfectly ordinary transforms as the novel progresses into an uncertain, creepy story that will give you chills. The sense that something isn’t quite right is always at your shoulder, with supernatural undertones creaking through the pages.
The story is made up of a series of snapshots or reveries – told by an older woman, Miss Jellico, who seems to be drifting in and out of consciousness. By her bedside is Victor, the man she calls the vicar and as such, a practiced ear for her confessions. This narrative device gently draws you in, revealing the story bit by bit.Following the passing of her mother, Frances Jellico takes up a position at Lynton’s; a crumbling mansion in the English countryside. In the dead heat of summer, Frances is commissioned to catalogue the garden architecture of the estate by its new owner. On arrival she meets her counterpoint, Peter, who has been hired to catalogue the interior. But he is not alone. There is a woman, Cara, a dark-haired beauty with a fiery temper she expresses in outbursts of Italian. At first, Frances keeps her distance and diligently performs her tasks, taking notes and making sketches.
But the glamourous couple eventually invite her to dine with them in their quarters and as she struggles into her old-fashioned clothes and her mother’s unforgiving shapewear (restricting her both physically and mentally), it becomes clear that while she is perfectly at ease in the world of academia, she is awkward and and unsure when it comes to socialising with her peers. The scene where she joins Peter and Cara for dinner, only to find that they haven’t even changed their clothes or begun cooking the meal, is so effective. We’ve all had that experience where we have felt like a complete outsider, as the ‘cool kids’ just ooze confidence and casual chic. I took to Frances immediately.
Cara and Peter also seem to befriend her quite easily and this heralds the beginning of a long decadent summer friendship, where they eat, drink and laze about in the glorious surroundings. But there is always an edge to these encounters. The couples’ constant bickering; Cara’s unusual stories about her past and how they met; Frances’ unhealthy obsession with their relationship. It reminded me at times of McEwan’s Atonement… how a little misinterpretation can have such devastating consequences. Like the house itself “Beautiful on the surface, but look a little closer and everything is decaying, rotting, falling apart.”
As Cara begins to confide in Frances, it is clear that she is not the exotic creature she appears to be. In fact, she is an Irish woman, with a penchant for accents and being anything other than who she is. She poses an interesting juxtaposition to the very British and very proper Frances; who, as a 39-year-old woman would appear to be the most sensible of the group. And yet she grows intoxicated on the feeling of belonging that their trio imparts, abandoning her old, prudish self like shedding a skin.
Bitter Orange is like a peep-show into other peoples’ lives and reveals that we are never truly seeing the full picture. Claire Fuller’s style is both subtle and shocking, like a sweet lady making you a nice cup of tea and then clocking you on the head with the teapot!
A heady mix of innocence and desire, Bitter Orange is a sophisticated study on the destructive nature of secrets and obsession.
[ Bio ]
A writer and an artist, Claire Fuller is the author of Bitter Orange (2018), Swimming Lessons (2017), which was shortlisted for the Encore Prize for second novels, and Our Endless Numbered Days (2015) which won the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction.
She lives in Winchester, England with her husband and cat, and has two grown-up children.
Twitter ~ @ClaireFuller2
Website ~ https://clairefuller.co.uk/
About Evie Gaughan
Evie Gaughan is a novelist and lives in the medieval city of Galway, on the West Coast of Ireland. Her books are an eclectic mix of genres, incorporating her love of history, folklore and finding magic in the everyday.
She has written three novels, The Heirloom, The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris and The Story Collector. Evie also contributes articles to The Irish Times and Women Writers, Women’s Books.
Website ~ https://eviegaughan.com/
Twitter ~ @evgaughan