I love Claire Fuller’s writing so when a surprise copy of Bitter Orange arrived in the post I was thrilled. I’d like to thank Jane Gentle at Penguin for sending it to me in return for an honest review which I am delighted to share today.
When I first began blogging in 2015, Claire Fuller’s debut Our Endless Numbered Days was one of my books of the year and you can read my review here. Not only do I have my review of Claire’s second book Swimming Lessons here, but I was privileged to interview her too.
Bitter Orange will be published by Penguin Fig Tree on 2nd August 2018 and is available for pre-order here.
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 for the absent American owner. 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.
My Review of Bitter Orange
Frances’ assignment to write a report on the garden architecture of Lyntons country house will lead to far more changes in her life than she can possibly imagine.
Everything about Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller is so utterly perfect, from the cover image to the final full stop that I am amazed at the fabulous quality of her writing. I thought her first two books, Our Endless Numbered Days and Swimming Lessons were excellent but Bitter Orange is truly outstanding.
Reading Bitter Orange is mesmerising and hypnotic. You think you’ve spotted everything but there is always more to discover as Claire Fuller reveals tiny snippets that pull the ground from beneath Frances and reader alike. The writing is poetic, lyrical and frequently sensuous so that there is a wonderful blend of truly glorious narrative creating a plot that may initially seem as languid as the days Peter, Cara and Frances spend together but is actually far more akin to the rotting centres of the actual bitter oranges on the orangery floor.
Right from the beginning of Bitter Orange there is an underlying menace and claustrophobia that adds an intensity to the read and leads to a sublime conclusion to the story. There are almost supernatural echoes to disturb the reader so that I was left questioning what was true and what was in the minds of the characters. I found I had frequently been cleverly misled and I loved that fact. Cara may be delusional and untrustworthy, but Bitter Orange is so brilliantly constructed that nothing is quite what it seems. The way in which Frances feels duped and controlled is exactly how I felt reading the book.
It’s quite difficult to review Bitter Orange as I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot. Also, because it is so brilliantly character led too, explaining more about Frances, Peter and Cara would also undermine the pleasure in reading for others. What I would say is that Bitter Orange is a work of accessible and glorious literary genius. Claire Fuller writes with the tension of Wilkie Collins in her plotting and the poetry of Dylan Thomas in her descriptions. I thought of the moment when Hardy’s Tess is in the overgrown garden when I read some of the descriptions, or of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in some of the ways Cara behaves.
Bitter Orange is undoubtedly a modern classic that defies categorisation but is just wonderful to read. It’s subtle, unnerving, intelligent and a supreme example of the written craft. Bitter Orange is multilayered and intoxicating to read too. I thought it was outstanding. Don’t miss it.
About Claire Fuller
Claire Fuller was born in Oxfordshire, England, in 1967. She gained a degree in sculpture from Winchester School of Art, but went on to have a long career in marketing and didn’t start writing until she was forty. Bitter Orange is her third novel. Her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, won the Desmond Elliott Prize. She has an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester and lives in Hampshire with her husband and two children.