★ ★ ★
When I saw that Claire Fuller was releasing another novel, I could not contain my excitement and contacted the publisher for an ARC, so first and foremost, thank you to Tin House Books for kindly sending me a copy. I’ve had to restrain my thoughts for this review for months now, so I’m glad I can finally share with everyone because Claire Fuller is one of my favorite author’s and Bitter Orange is her latest gem.
A hazy, hot summer read about a woman on her last days, looking back on her life and recalling the memory of summer 1969 where she lived with a mysterious couple in a decaying English estate in the countryside. Frances is the sole narrator for Bitter Orange, one who makes for an unreliable storyteller, which I enjoyed for this. The novel had a very blurry feel, almost like a dream sequence, because of Frances being an unstable narrator and not knowing if what she is saying is true or accurate because in the present day her memory is fading—and even through her recalling that one summer, she appears as a naive and awkward individual which made for a complex and intriguing main character.
Unusual things begin happening around the estate and we do not know if it is haunted, if it’s in Frances’ mind, or if the newly arrived couple who’ve caught Frances attention has something to do with it because they are a strange couple and Frances becomes quite obsessed and with that comes blurred lines and might induce some delusional behavior. Claire Fuller writes beautiful prose that is always atmospheric and eerie, and this was no exception. While this almost feels suffocating and cloudy, almost like a scorching hot humid summer day, it would make for the perfect fall read because of that disoriented and foggy perspective about what went on during the summer of 1969.
From the attic of Lyntons, a dilapidated English country mansion, Frances Jellico sees them—Cara first: dark and beautiful, then Peter: striking and serious. The couple is spending the summer of 1969 in the rooms below hers while Frances is researching the architecture in the surrounding gardens. But she’s distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she finds a peephole that gives her access to her neighbors’ private lives.
To Frances’ surprise, Cara and Peter are keen to get to know her. It is the first occasion 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 until 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, a small crime brings on a bigger one: a crime so terrible that it will brand their lives forever.
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 9th 2018 by Tin House Books
I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.