Review – The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

By | March 4, 2013

What an impressive novel – it really is no wonder this wonderful book was subject to US bidding wars, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing it on all the awards nomination lists as the year progresses. This is the story of Talmadge, whose mother takes him and his sister on a trek from Oregon to Washington State after his father dies in a mining accident. He then loses both his mother and sister – the latter under mysterious circumstances that affect him deeply – but continues to turn the few fruit trees he starts with into a thriving fruit orchard, vividly described. He has minimal interaction with people – a faithful friend in Caroline Middey the local herbalist and midwife, and a group of itinerant Native American horse traders who help with the harvest. He resists selling his fruit through the large suppliers, and weekly sets up his stall outside the trading post to sell to the local people. There he encounters Jane and Della, two young pregnant girls running away from their abusive home, who first steal apples off his stall then follow him home.

And that sets Talmadge’s life on a totally new course – and it’s quite a story, beautifully told. This is a book that rewards careful reading, the prose is beautiful, very slow moving and organic, but hypnotic to read, emotional and moving, and unlike anything I’ve read before. It might sound claustrophobic and depressing, but it really isn’t – the main characters are drawn in great emotional detail and depth, and this is a story about human endeavour, endurance and their quest for justice that mesmerises throughout, and left me emotionally uplifted. Others have called it Shakespearean in its scale and theme, and I really can’t think of a better comparison. Don’t let this one pass you by – I loved it.

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