Bitter Orange

Bitter OrangeBitter Orange by Claire Fuller
Published by Tin House Books on October 9th 2018
Pages: 320
ISBN: 1947793152
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Frances Jellico is dying.

As she lies in her bed awaiting death, she looks back on her life and that summer in 1969 which left its mark on her forever.

Frances Jellico was the caretaker for her Mother for the last ten years of her mother’s life. When her Mother died, Frances went to live at an old crumbling estate/manor called the Lyntons to research the architecture of the gardens. Frances will not be alone at the Lyntons. An intriguing couple, Cara and Peter have also moved in. Peter has been tasked with evaluating the contents of the estate for the American Buyer. It just so happens that they have the room below and Frances has discovered that by moving the floorboard, she can spy on the couple below. Scandalous!

Frances is the sole narrator and it is interesting to see things from her point of view. As she spent most of her life with her mother, she is slightly awkward, naive, and lacking in life experiences that one might have by the age of thirty-nine years old (as she is in 1969). Frances is happy when the young couple invite her into their lives. She is invited to spend time with them and soon the three of them spend most of their time together. Frances also makes friends with the local Vicar, who is questioning his faith while his congregation diminishes each week.

As this book does not have many characters and most of the time is spent at the Manor, there is not a lot of action in this book. I found this to be a slow read with just enough plot development occurring to keep my interest. I struggled initially with this book but around the 30-35 percent mark, things picked up for me. The days pass in this book in a slow and lazy fashion and I found that is also how I read this book. Remember, Frances is looking back on her life in this book, and I often wondered what was so great about being at the Lyntons that had her still thinking about it after so many years? Well, my fellow readers, keep reading!

I am glad that I did not review this book right away. I took some time to think about the book and I am happy that I did. This story slowly seeped into me and I found myself thinking about it from time to time upon finishing the book. Have you ever read a book and felt “meh” while reading it and then can’t get the book out of your head? That was me! I discovered that I enjoyed it more than I thought I did. I am used to page turners which I can power read and which keep me on the edge of my seat. This is not that type of book. This is a book which, as I said, slowly seeps into the reader. With so few characters, the story really is character driven. The pace is slower, but this book did have some “reveals” and revelations. There were some plots twists and turns at the end. Nothing too shocking but the reveals pack enough punch to create some tension and small shocks.

Going back to Frances, she was a very interesting character. I kept wondering if she just repressed or is there more going on with her? Is she a reliable narrator? Is she so desperate for companionship that it is affecting her judgement? Plus, Peter and Cara have their own issues both individually and with each other. Cara is another interesting character and she kept me scratching my head. If I could have known another character’s POV, I would have loved to have known Cara’s thoughts. Most of what we (and Frances) learn about Peter and Cara is told to Frances by Cara. But is she reliable? Frances has enough interactions with Peter to learn that some things may not be as they seem. Or is he unreliable? Then there is the Vicar with his own issues and his friendship with Frances. It’s safe to say that all the characters have issues and it was interesting watching them orbit each other and get involved in each other’s worlds.

If this book begins slowly for you, my advice is to stick with it as it does get better and once you get to the half way mark, the slow beginning makes sense.

Thank you to Tin House books and Edelweiss for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions in this book are my own.