Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Posted On 16 August 2018

Filed under Book Reviews
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bitter orangeI really enjoyed Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller and so I danced a little jig of joy when I was approved for a copy of Bitter Orange.

Much to my delight Fuller has managed to once again come up with a gem of a novel.  Completely different in terms of style and plot than her debut novel, Bitter Orange speaks of hot summers days during the year of 1969 when a rather introverted woman becomes friends with the decadent couple who share the same building.

Immediately you have a sense of impending doom and that initial suspicion grows, nurtured by the ever increasing sense of tension that Fuller’s prose creates until things come to a dramatic finale.

As the book starts out we make the acquaintance of Frances, now an elderly lady whose health is failing and who as she lies, awaiting death, reminisces with a visiting priest about the Summer of ’69 and the events that took place following the death of her mother.

Frances was 40 when her mother passed away and having spent the majority of her adulthood as a full time carer her life has a feeling of lost opportunity, a certain sadness coupled with the naivety and awkwardness that she now feels in any social situation and reflect her lack of experience.  Luckily Frances receives a job offer which involves her spending a number of months in a dilapidated mansion where she will report back to the owner on any noteworthy architectural finds in the extensive grounds.  Unexpectedly, on arrival, and having believed that she would be the only person residing at Lynton House she discovers another couple already in situ.  Cara, beautiful and exotic, who argues in Italian and loves cooking extravagant meals and Peter, handsome and aloof.  The couple, well Peter, has similarly been employed by the owner to check out the fixtures, fittings and any furniture of worth.  Frances finds herself immediately in awe of the couple and when they seemingly take her under their wing, inviting her to spend her evenings dining with them she becomes a little bit besotted with the pair.  Obsessions, of course, have a way of spiralling out of control and in terms of this little group it soon becomes apparent that something is very much amiss.

The setting for Bitter Orange is just gorgeous.  A crumbling mansion, still with many of it’s original features proudly displayed and with a rich history.  It’s a gothic delight.  The gardens are extensive with all sorts of out buildings, lakes and ornamental bridges all surrounded by overgrown grass, flowers and shrubs just waiting to encroach further and reclaim the space – the whole description just had me wanting to find this place and run around it with abandon trying to discover secrets.

Then we have our characters.  They all have secrets.  There’s a good deal of twisting and turning going on here and coupled with unreliable narrators, good storytellers and a large dollop of wishful thinking things are set to become a hot mess.  I have to give a little shout out to Cara in particular.  The moments when she’s weaving tales of her childhood in Ireland are quite mesmerising and I too could have spent a whole afternoon listening to her whilst partaking of a picnic by the lake.

To be honest, I can’t fault this book at all.  It’s written in a style that I just love, the characters are so easy to picture and the whole ensemble has an almost casual or accidental elegance and the cherry on the icing is that the story is infused with tension that steadily mounts. There are some real quality moments here where you feel either dread, embarrassment or you want to squirm on behalf of one or others of the characters or implore them to stop.

I can’t really say too much more to be honest and so I find this quite a short review which is in no way a reflection on my feelings for the book.  I thoroughly enjoyed this, it’s not my usual fantasy laden read so be warned of that – this may be a gothic  story set in a run down country house but there isn’t a ghost, or dragon, in sight.

Anyway, I think if you like nuggets such as Rebecca or The Secret History – and to be clear, I am in no way, shape or form, comparing the content, more the literary style – then I think you’ll enjoy Fuller’s work.  For me she’s an author to keep an eye on and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.


25 Responses to “Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller”

  1. waytoofantasy

    Ah, now I really want to read this one. I was interested before but your review has convinced me. 🙂

  2. Tammy

    You’ve totally sold me, Lynn. I’ve actually had my eye on this book but I was waiting to read a review😁

    • @lynnsbooks

      I hope you enjoy it. I thought it was really well done and I loved the setting.
      Lynn 😀

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    One does not necessarily need ghosts or other supernatural creatures to establish a compelling mood, and this comes across quite clearly from your review 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I really enjoyed it but I think the author’s writing style is just so readable.
      Lynn 😀

  4. sjhigbee

    It sounds like a riveting read – thank you for sharing, Lynn.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I loved it – have you read this author?

      • sjhigbee

        No, but I heard her speak a couple of months ago at West Sussex Writers – she was very good.

      • @lynnsbooks

        She’s a lovely writer – I must go and pick up her second book which I seem to have missed.
        Lynn 😀

  5. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I think I know what you mean about the style and atmosphere – I’m currently reading a book very much like this, and I never want it to end. I love how you managed not to reveal too much of the plot at all and still entice me to pick this one up. It pushes all my buttons!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I just love Claire Fuller – she’s such a good author. I mean, technically speaking there isn’t loads going on in this book – but, it’s the intrigue, the build up, the tension, the unreliable narrators and the style of writing. Spot on for me.
      Lynn 😀

  6. Greg

    I always like it when the characters have lots of secrets. 🙂 Glad this one was so enjoyable!

  7. Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky

    Okay, I’m definitely going to be trying this one out! Also, that cover makes me want to reach into my screen and pluck those oranges. 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      The cover is great – the content is even better. Let me know if you read it.
      Lynn 😀

  8. jessicabookworm

    Glad you enjoyed this so much – it sounds like it could be just my cup of tea 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Jessica, I’ve never been more sure of a ‘thing’ – this is so your cup of tea that I can’t believe I didn’t think of it until you commented. You would lpve this. It puts me very much in mind of DuMaurier and Tartt. I think you would love it.
      Lynn 😀

      • jessicabookworm

        It’s going on the wish list! 😀

      • @lynnsbooks

        Yes! I can’t wait to see what you think of it if you get chance to pick it up.
        Lynn 😀

  9. Carmen

    This is the second review I have read this week about this book, and I have to say, you have managed to pique my interest. I’ll add this book to my wishlist, as well as her previous one, of which I’ve heard great things too.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I’m loving this author. I’ve got to pick up the book I’ve missed and see how that compares.
      Lynn 😀

  10. bkfrgr

    Oooo, gothic! I’m interested. 🙂

    Have you every read Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale? In mentioning Rebecca and The Secret History (two books I’ve very much enjoyed) you made me think you might enjoy/ have already enjoyed this one too? 🙂

  11. Claire 'Word by Word'

    I really enjoyed Swimming Lessons which was definitely atmospheric, this one took a while to get to feeling like that for me, but still an enjoyable read.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I haven’t read Swimming Lessons – I do fancy reading it though.
      Lynn 😀

  12. Welcome to the comfort zone | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller – another new read and one that I definitely recommend. […]

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