NOVEL 9 - Book Review - Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Modern novels group 9 would like to share and recommend our book choice with other groups and U3A members

This is Claire Fuller’s third novel and we were keen to read it as she is a local author. It tells the story of Frances Jellico who is dying and remembering the summer of 1969 when she was commissioned by Mr. Lieberman, the new owner, to survey the follies in the gardens of a decrepit and almost derelict country house in Hampshire. An old friend, a vicar, is with here at her deathbed and is encouraging her to tell him what really happened that summer. A sense of suspense is quickly established.

Frances is an ungainly, lonely, socially inept woman of 39 who has spent most of her life caring for her ailing, difficult and critical mother. On arrival at Lyntons she discovers Cara and Peter (who has been commissioned to survey the interior) already in residence on the floor below her. Early on she discovers a Judas hole in her bathroom through which she can spy on the couple. Frances is bewitched by this exotic and hedonistic pair and the prospect of friendship with them beguiles her. She is drawn into a summer of extravagant and elaborate meals cooked by Cara, where champagne flows and the three of them lead a seemingly idyllic, lazy, indulgent summer, totally neglecting their brief from Mr. Lieberman. Frances is entranced by Cara’s fantastic stories of her past life. Peter initially seems less complicated, but his character is gradually revealed to the reader. Frances refuses to heed the pleadings of the vicar to distance herself from this pair and remains charmed by them.

We all enjoyed this gothic novel where Fuller blends a sense of the languid, hot August and gentle bucolic descriptions of the Hampshire countryside with an air of undefinable menace and foreboding. There are strange sounds, a face at the window , a dead bird and the eyes have been cut out of the peacocks on the wallpaper. The tension increases throughout the novel as the weaknesses of the protagonists are revealed and hints of impending disaster build. This is a novel full of surprises.

Jenny Brennan