Thank you to Jane Gentle at Penguin for reminding me that today (2nd May) sees the paperback release of one of my favourite books of last year – Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller – complete with a striking new cover.
Frances Jellico is dying. A man who calls himself the vicar visits, hoping to extract a deathbed confession. He wants to know what really happened that fateful summer of 1969, when Frances – tasked with surveying a dilapidated country house – first set eyes on the glamorous bohemian couple, Cara and Peter. She recalls the relationship they forged through sweltering days, lavish dinners and elaborate lies, and the Judas hole through which she would spy on the couple.
Were the signs there right from the beginning?
Or was it impossible to avoid the crime that split their lives open like rotten fruit?
I’m really delighted to take the opportunity to share my review again, urging anyone who hasn’t already had the opportunity to immerse themselves in this wonderful book to take a closer look…
My goodness, what a wonderful sensory experience this book was. The sultry summer, the long languorous days, the stifling atmosphere and that discomfiting feeling of acute claustrophobia, the darkness and near unbearable tension permeating it all, the moments of unbridled and intoxicating joy – the yearning to find out how it all ends, while hoping beyond hope that it never does. The writing in this book is quite breath-taking – the detailed descriptions perfectly capturing the glory of the past and its decay, the dazzling beauty and the rottenness beneath it all.
I loved the book’s structure – the approach of the end of Frances’ life, the memories of that period when she experienced a life totally outside her experience. The characterisation is exceptional – a moving portrait of loneliness and awkwardness, the attraction of the exotic and different, the awakening of something she’d never felt before, that headiness of belonging. And then there are Cara and Peter, magnetic and fascinating, with their tempestuous relationship, their decadence and disregard for convention, the layering of stories around them, the difficulty in identifying any kind of truth amid the mist of fantasy and lies.
While it might be fair to call the narrative slow burning, the book also manages to be an unexpected page-turner, a (very different) psychological thriller – with that constant edginess, the suggestion of darkness, and a feeling that something quite unimaginably horrific is waiting just around the next corner. And when it finally comes… but you must read this wonderful book. Without question, one of my books of the year – I absolutely loved it.
About the author
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.