Cover Image: Bitter Orange

Bitter Orange

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Member Reviews

Cleverly crafted mystery with just enough twists and turns to keep you hooked. If only the author had left out the last chapter that reads like an unnecessary epilogue.
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I wanted to like this book, I really did. However, I couldn't get on with it and abandoned after about 50 pages. Maybe I've just had my fill of unreliable, alcoholic, unravelling narrators.
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Claire Fuller evokes the hot dusty summer beautifully. A compelling story, though the ending left me wanting more.  I enjoyed 'Swimming Lessons' a lot more.
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A wonderful depiction of a baking hot summer and how those around us can shape our lives. Creepy and thrilling, Bitter Orange is the perfect hot summers read.
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I had seen lots of positive reviews about this book so was very intrigued to read it, and very grateful to NetGalley for the ARC.

This is the story of a naïve Frances, nearing her 40s but with little life experience, who meets Peter and Cara when she and Peter are hired to carry out a report on a rich American's purchase of an old stately home one summer.

Cara tells fanciful stories and her relationship with Peter is quite strange, and as Frances is drawn into their circle, their friendship also develops into an intense and strange relationship. 

Told from the point of view of an older Frances dying in a hospital bed, looking back at the events of that summer, the story unfolds slowly, until it ends with quite a twist. I found this a bit of a slow burner, but as the story neared it's climax, the pace really picked up. Definitely worth a read.
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An atmospheric story told well and with an ending I couldn’t have guessed. 
However I liked the charCters less and less so ended up not really caring about them. Lots of detail that added little for me and lots of half told threads that never got fully woven in.
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A really atmospheric book. Set in the 1960s, during a long hot summer in a dilapidated country house, with a wine cellar but no furniture. The three main characters embark on a decadent escape from their histories and their problems.

It reminded me of when I read Brideshead Revisited as a teenager. The main character feels the allure and sophistication of a life so different to her norm, and a desperate want to belong. I was able to envisage the house and the characters so clearly, and I was intrigued about what would happen.

A beautiful book. Thank you to #NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review it.
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Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller is a novel about Frances who lies in her bed dying and looks back on her life and the summer of 1969 which left its mark on her.
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Frances Jellico, an unreliable narrator of Claire Fuller's new book, reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant and Susan Green (the heroine of "The Cactus") - somewhat naive, socially incompetent and dying to have a friend and/or a lover. And it looks like she is about to get both - except... Things do not go as planned, or as Frances hoped them to go - or chose to believe they would unfold.

I was very impressed with Claire Fuller's writing - it was rich, dramatic, wonderful. I couldn't put "Bitter Orange" down - not least for the beautiful writing. I could almost picture the decay, the strange atmosphere, the eeriness of the estate where the story took place.

A twist in the end was somewhat predictable. But it is not for the twist I enjoyed the novel.

With many thanks for the publisher and NetGalley for providing the book for free in exchange for a fair review.
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Very intricate storyline, that started off slowly, but then got into its pace.  Great storytelling at its best.  Having read Swimming Lessons and thoroughly enjoyed, I knew this book would not disappoint.
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Fuller manages to create an eerie and haunting atmosphere in this novel, while an ominous feeling of dread seems to be following the reader from the very first page. The characters were all very well crafted, although I can't say I truly liked anyone by the end of the book. The plot is intriguing and had a big twist for me in the last few chapters and Fuller's writing surely enhanced that. 

I finished this book a few months ago, and yet I still remember most of the scenes vividly, albeit with a bitter taste in my mouth, much like the bitter orange of the title.
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In this gothic tale we meet Fran who has gone to a crumbling mansion to complete a report on a bridge, in her dirty and cramped attic room where she spends her days she discovers a telescope in the floorboards of her bathroom and starts spying on the other residents of the house Peter and Clara, soon the three spark up a friendship and Fran becomes entangled in the couples odd relationship which has life changing consequences for all involved. 

This book is very well written and you get a strong sense of atmosphere right from the start, the story is interesting and draws you in with the many threads. However there is a lot of description in this book at times and it did suck me out of the story a bit. Towards the end I felt myself getting a bit frustrated when I realised that a lot of the threads weren't going to be tied up and a lot of things were never explained.

Overall this was an enjoyable read I just wanted a bit more from it.
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In Bitter Orange (2018), we are made accomplices of the main character’s voyeurism, caught in a claustrophobic atmosphere that grows ever more disturbing as we gradually realize the twisted nature of the events with which she gets involved.
When the novel opens, in the late 1980’s, our narrator, Frances Jellico, is dying, confined to a bed in an unspecified institution. Her mind wanders between the present time, when she receives frequent visits by a vicar, and a summer she spent twenty years earlier in an old English country mansion. As the story progresses, the two narratives begin to converge, and we feel that Frances’ memories might have a bitter taste: the mysterious vicar, glued to her death bed, seems intent on extracting a confession from her about that strange summer many years ago.
In 1969, when our protagonist was thirty-nine years old, she was commissioned to write a report on the garden architecture of Lyntons, an old, dilapidated mansion in the English countryside which had been bought by a rich man living in the United States. Frances has just buried her sick mother, whom she had spent her life taking care of. Arriving at Lyntons, Frances finds out she will not be alone for the summer: an exotic couple, will be living in the rooms below hers. Peter has been hired to assess the inner state of the house and has brought along Cara, his carefree, glamorous woman.
From the beginning, the lonely, socially awkward Frances will become enraptured by this mysterious couple, as they seem to represent everything she had been denied in life: freedom, love, pleasure, sex. Cara’s exotic stories only keep our protagonist ever more intrigued. When Frances discovers a peephole in her bathroom floor, she cannot help but to watch the couple from above: together with her, we gradually realize that they are bound by a bitter trauma. "I am a voyeur, the person who stands at the police tape watching someone's life unravel, I am in the car slowing beside the accident but not stopping. I am the perpetrator returning to the scene of the crime."
Meanwhile, sinister things begin to happen: the house makes strange noises in the night, a ghostly face appears at an attic window, a character vomits upon receiving the holy communion, a pillow is found in the bathtub, with the indentation of what can only be a ghostly head. The house also seems to be inhabited by animals taken out of a dark fairy tale: a dead bird, a wounded fox, a hare. And dot only that: we almost feel as if Lyntons itself were alive and growing from the inside, as a labyrinth of secret rooms.
And yet, it could all be only a product of our imagination: none of the characters, we soon learn, is very much reliable; and Frances herself, as she is telling us this story from her deathbed, may be suffering from dementia. The narrative moves from present to past and the time before that – very much like the mind of a character who is either dreaming or losing her grip on reality. We are caught in the grey zone between nightmare, memory, and lies. Nothing is what it seems, and there is only one thing we can be sure of: something is terribly wrong with this place and these people.
The highlight of the book, for me, was Fuller's take on the gothic tropes: here we have a sunny background that is nonetheless unsettling, simmering with danger; the overripe, sometimes decaying fruit, the luscious green, and the noises all around make for a suffocating atmosphere; and we cannot help but to have a growing claustrophobic feeling, even though all the doors and windows are wide open. It just feels as if the house were about to be invaded by some strange force, from the inside out.
The characters themselves seem to be locked up in their pasts, desperate to get out, as if they were caught in a nightmare from which they cannot awake. The haunted house may very well be their own minds: each memory, an airless, secret room about to be invaded. Much like the dilapidated house they are inhabiting, Frances, Peter and Cara are also falling apart, and we find ourselves caught in the middle of the ruins. We are caught inside the stories they tell themselves in order to cope with or escape from some kind of pain: the ghosts they carry around with them wherever they go.
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In 1969 Frances goes to stay in a dilapidated house in the English countryside. A repressed spinster whom life has seemingly passed by whilst she cared for her sick mother, she is fascinated by Cara and Peter, a bourgeois couple living on the floor below her. When she discovered a spy hole from her floor to theirs, she develops an obsession with the couple.

I did enjoy this novel - the prose was slick and atmospheric, the descriptions of the English countryside spot on - but I didn't feel enough of an emotional connection to either Frances or Cara/Peter to care much about what was happened. In all honesty I felt the novel didn't explore Frances' dark side enough. Although I could see some strongly alarming elements, such as what happens with her mother and the careful build up to the eventual denouement, I felt it was a little bit too unexpected.

Thanks to netgalley and Fig Tree for this egalley.
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Claire Fuller has a great feeling for places – forests, the sea and in her latest book, Bitter Orange, crumbling country mansions – it makes her books immersive experiences. 

Bitter Orange focuses on Lyntons, a dilapidated English estate. Over the summer of 1969, Frances Jellico, a middle-aged spinster grieving the death of her mother, is tasked with documenting the estate’s garden architecture for its absent American owner – Frances’s specialty is Palladian bridges and she is looking forward to quiet days of sketching the treasures of Lyntons.  

Also staying at the property is Peter, the serious antiques expert, and his beautiful, tempestuous partner, Cara. Frances is intrigued by the couple and through overheard conversations and spying at gaps in the floorboards, she learns more about them – not all is as it seems but seduced by their friendship and their hedonistic approach to life – lavish meals, lazy days swimming in the lake, cigarettes and martinis on the terrace, sleeping until noon – Frances soon becomes entangled in their life.

…she thanked me for listening, and I saw it was that easy, that was all I had to do to make a friend…

Fuller’s use of unreliable narration in Bitter Orange is beautifully restrained and gothic details – dead animals in the house, footsteps heard in empty passageways, rotting fruit in the exquisite orangery – give the story a dark edge. A sense of unease hums through every scene and Fuller maintains the tension until the very end. But while I enjoyed the plot twists, the motivation behind some elements of the story were not wholly convincing and I wondered if in creating three very strong characters, Fuller had given herself too great a task.

That said, the character of Frances was terrific –  her uncertainty, her ever-so-slight bitterness, her prudishness and then her summer transformation – it was like Anita Brookner Gone Wild.

She reached out until her fingers touched my face, and told me I was beautiful. I was thirty-nine when I sat on the jetty, and in my whole life no one had ever said I was beautiful. Later,…I leaned over the green water of the lake and was disappointed to see that my reflection hadn’t changed…

But the star of Bitter Orange is Lyntons – the rambling gardens, the overgrown orangery, rotting secret doors, dark cellars, wardrobes full of forgotten furs, echoing ballrooms… surely the movie rights to this book have been snapped up?

3/5 Don’t over-think it, just enjoy.

I received my copy of Bitter Orange from the publisher, Penguin Books UK, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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I’ve really enjoyed Claire Fuller’s previous books and this one is no exception.  It’s a classic ‘cuckoo in the nest’ tale with an anti-social loner becoming dazzled by the lives of a glamourous couple who welcome her into their intimate circle.

In this case the loner is Frances, a 39 year old spinster who is still grieving from the death of her bitter and controlling mother when she takes a job cataloguing architecture at a neglected country house which has recently been acquired a rich American.   Also staying at the house is Peter, who has been hired to compile a list of the antiques in the house, and his beautiful, ethereal and fragile wife Cara.    The couple welcome Frances into their lives with enthusiasm and warmth, and she in turn becomes obsessed with them and confused about their motives for befriending her.
The long and lazy summer of 1969 is depicted as balmy and oppressive, which suits this dark, menacing and claustrophobic tale perfectly.   Frances is our narrator, and just how unreliable she is becomes ever more clear as the story progresses.   Her obsession with the lives of this seemingly perfect and couple takes a sinister turn as she takes the reader with her on a passionate journey towards catastrophe.  I felt the story ‘sagged’ a little in the middle but it does pick up again and there are plenty of twists and turns and a gripping conclusion.
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Orange sorbet...								3 stars

Frances Jellicoe is happy when she is offered a job to survey the gardens of a decayed country house, Lyntons, for the new absentee American owner. Frances’ mother has recently died after years of ill-health, and for the first time in her adulthood Frances is free to make her own life. Leaving London and the flat she and her mother shared gives her a sense of liberty. When she arrives at Lyntons, she finds she won’t be alone. Peter has also been hired, to survey the architectural state of the house, and is there with his beautiful but mercurial wife, Cara. To Frances’ surprise, they befriend her and soon she finds herself caught up in their volatile relationship. As time passes, secrets from the past will be revealed that will impact on the events of that summer, the summer of 1969...

The first half of this book crawls along at a snail’s pace and I nearly abandoned it at the halfway mark. Looking at other reviews suggested, however, that it picks up in the second half, so I stuck with it, and indeed, it did hold my attention more as it went on. But, here I am, a few days later, struggling to think of anything to say about it. It’s one of those books that I neither loved nor hated, that filled a few hours in a reasonably entertaining way (in the second half), and that now, some three days after finishing, I can barely remember anything about.

It’s well written, especially the descriptions of the dilapidated old house, once home to a wealthy family and later requisitioned by the army to accommodate soldiers during WW2. The blurb tells us that Frances spies on Peter and Cara through a Judas hole in her bathroom, though in reality this forms only a tiny, insignificant part of the story. Mostly, she observes them directly, as they rather surprisingly choose to include her in all their activities. There’s also a totally unsuccessful attempt to introduce some ghostliness into the proceedings – this goes nowhere and adds nothing. 

The three characters failed to convince me at all, though it’s enjoyable enough to read about them. Peter, a sensible, hard-headed type, seems entirely unsuited to the fanciful, fey Cara, and neither of them seem as if they would be interested in a dull middle-aged woman like Frances. Of course, Frances is an unreliable narrator (is there any other kind these days?) so who knows how much of what she tells us really happens? Not me, for one. There’s also what feels like some attempt to introduce a quasi-religious aspect to the story, which fell flat on its face as far as I was concerned.

Was I surprised by the big reveal? Not really. Did I care? Not really. 

You know, I started out intending to rate this as four stars because, despite my unrelenting negativity about it, I did find it mostly entertaining once I got past that interminable first half. But I’ve realised while drafting the review that I can’t think of much positive to say about it, except that the writing was good enough to carry me through a rather pointless, unrealistic and ultimately forgettable plot. So a sorbet – enjoyable but not satisfying. Would I recommend it? Not really.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Penguin Fig Tree.
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Frances, who is dying, is looking back on her life. The time that she is looking back to is 1969 and the location is Lyntons, a collapsing country house in Hampshire. 
At this time, Frances is 39. Her mother has recently died, Frances having cared for her for the past ten years. After her mother’s death, Frances is employed by a rich American to go and assess the outside buildings and grounds of Lyntons. 
When Frances arrives at Lyntons she finds a couple living in the rooms below her, Peter and Cara. Frances becomes obsessed with the couple, to the extent that she spys on them through a spy hole in her bathroom. The couple lead an exotic, shocking life to Frances who is just beginning to live her life after years of serving her mother; she is socially inept and has never met a couple like Peter and Cara before.
Told over a long, hot summer with fantastic descriptive writing about the crumbling country house and its surroundings, the plot of this novel is intricate yet the book is not difficult to read. Frances is lonely and has never had a friend and becomes obsessed with what she sees as the perfect life of Peter and Cara. Frances is ready to live life but doesn’t know how. 
 As the book progresses we realise that Peter and Cara’s life is full of imperfections and unhappiness and watch Frances, at first swept up with the glamour of the couple, coming to realise this.
I found this to be a very well written and captivating story, which left me thinking about it for a long time after finishing the book.
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This is an excellent book that had me totally hooked from the first few pages. A seductive storyline with strong characters and an atmospheric setting. It’s already had so many good reviews so I’m not sure I can add anything new to the mix so I’ll keep it fairly short and sweet.

What’s it about?

Frances, now elderly and slowly dying, reflects back to the time when she spent a summer living at Lyntons, a neglected country mansion. She shares the large, empty house with a mysterious couple – Peter and Cara. Both Frances and Peter have been sent to the house to report on the architecture and gardens, noting down the inventory and to salvage anything of value to be sent to their employer Mr Liebermann, a wealthy American. Frances obsesses over the couple and ultimately gets caught up in their intoxicating and fraught relationship.

Things I liked

The characters are superb, especially Frances and Cara. Frances is, in her words “a difficult old bird” and was “shy and awkward, large and plain” in her youth. In comparison, Cara is “hot-blooded and prickly, bewitching; a flowering cactus”. The unlikely friendship between the two is a confidence boost for Frances but as a reader you can’t help feeling a twinge of suspicion about where the friendship is heading.

In her old age Frances’s dry wit has a blunt, dark undercurrent. She talks about her troubled relationship with her parents and her extremely sheltered and strict upbringing:

“Payment will always be due for any wrongdoing, don’t lie or steal, don’t talk to strange men, don’t speak unless spoken to, don’t look your mother in the eye, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t expect anything from life.”

Don’t look your mother in the eye? Say whaaat? You’ve gotta love a messed up mother-daughter relationship!

The structure of the book is perfectly executed, the story seamlessly switching between the present day and the summer of 1969 (cue Bryan Adam’s song getting stuck in your head!).

The sultry summer, paired with the impressive yet overgrown mansion grounds creates a stifling, uneasy feeling. The author’s detailed descriptions meant I could easily envisage the setting and the number of unexpected twists as well as the looming sense of dread that permeated the story made it extremely compelling.

Any issues?

I would have liked more voyeuristic peephole action! Ha! But no, I really did love everything about this book and that’s why it gets a big fat 5 stars.

Why you should read this book

It’s a tantalisingly good read, full of suspense and titillation!
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I enjoyed this book from the title and cover picture to its conclusion. It kept me guessing with all it's twists, turns and red herrings.
Frances Jellico, a woman who has led a lonely life, is given the opportunity to do some historical research on the bridge at Lyntons, a crumbling country house. She is given permission to live there while she carries out the report for the owner who lives abroad. When she arrives she finds a couple living there already, Peter also having been given research work to report back. They soon become close friends and while she is enjoying their company and their lifestyle she tries to unravel the mysterious tale of Cara's life. Their friendship is her undoing and the story flits from this time to the present day when the vicar attempts to extricate the truth of the final days at Lynton.  A very clever plot. Thank you to Net Galley and the publisher for an ARC.
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