Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Orange sorbet…

🙂 🙂 🙂

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.

Claire Fuller

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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38 thoughts on “Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

  1. Yikes! So even the secrets you hinted at were not enough to recommend a read? At least you stuck with the book though the plot was forgettable. I probably would have abandoned it.


    • I’ve abandoned so many books this year I’m getting embarrassed about it! This one was a pity – it really sounded as if it would be good, but it just didn’t quite work… for me, anyway. Oh, well!


  2. Oh, sorry to hear you weren’t more taken with this one, FictionFan. It seemed so appealing from the blurb, etc… Hmm…. I do like it that it depicts the house and the era well. But not sure now that I want to read it. If you finish a book, and, three days later, can’t remember much about it, that means it didn’t draw you in. And my TBR is big enough. I’ll probably wait on this one.


    • It was a pity because it sounded as if it had all the elements for a nice spooky read for autumn. But despite the good writing and the old house, it just didn’t seem to quite come off… for me, at least. Oh, well! I’m sure there’s plenty more on your TBR to keep you going… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well I can finally put my intrigue over this one to bed then! I’m so glad I’m not the only one who can reasonably enjoy a book and then sit down to write the review and find it made barely a whisper of an impression on me!


    • I really have to either take notes or write my review quickly, but I can usually last three days without forgetting a book completely! Oh well – I’m sure reader preference was at work and it’ll get more positive reviews elsewhere, but it won’t be one I’ll be twisting arms about…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nope. Sounds pretty forgettable, and I have enough on my To-Do list without crowding something like this onto it, even if the writing is lovely. As for those unreliable narrators … grrr, when will that fad end?!?


    • I am so tired of unreliable narrators and suggestions of supernatural stuff going on in the background. *sighs* I’m just out of sync with modern fiction at the moment, I’m afraid. But I told you you wouldn’t be tempted today… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve had this happen to me too. And lately more and more. I will say that I try to write my thoughts down pretty quickly. I suspect there will be an audience for this book though. There always seems to be for whatever book is out there. It just might not be you or me or whomever. Well, you already read it, but you know what I mean. I think as I read more and more books, it sometimes takes a lot to make them memorable for a long time. I like the cover on this one. It’s interesting…


    • I usually take notes unless I intend to write the review very quickly, but in this case I clearly didn’t do it quickly enough! Yes, a lot of people have been enjoying it already, so if it comes your way I hope you do too. My star system really only reflects my subjective enjoyment rather than an objective judgement of a book’s “quality”, whatever that might mean!


  6. I was interested to see what you made of this, because I’d had a similar experience with Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days: it was OK but the big reveal predictable, yet so many people loved it. I think my TBR is safe from this one!


    • Plenty of people are loving it, so hopefully you will too. I’m finding I’m getting pickier and pickier about contemporary books at the moment – much happier with a classic or a Golden Age crime – so the problem is probably at least as much me as the book!


    • Thank you! 😀 It’s a pity – I’d seen lots of glowing reviews for her earlier books, so maybe I just picked the wrong one as my first. Her writing is good, but the plot let it down…


  7. I really enjoyed Swimming Lessons and was looking forward to this and I was a little surprised and intrigued by some of the blurb descriptions which called it a “darkly atmospheric page turner” which it decidedly wasn’t. I had just read a page turner before reading this, so really noticed how I was slowed down by the prose initially.


    • I do think misleading blurbs tend to set up false expectations and probably work to the disadvantage of the book. This was my first introduction to Claire Fuller, so it’s good to hear that you thought Swimming Lessons was better – I might try to fit it in.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I think your review is spot-on, very fair and you really see the book for what it is. The book is mediocre. No one can say it is a masterpiece, but no one can say it is very bad. It is simply average. The author is clearly the fan of both Patricia Highsmith and Daphne du Maurier, and tries to incorporate some of their eeriness into the novel.
    What also annoyed with “Bitter Orange” is that both Cara and Peter will suddenly begin to divulge all their secrets to Frances, like she is some kind of a psychotherapist. There was suddenly too much trust between Cara and Peter and Frances. The whole set up was a bit too much on an artificial side for me.
    I am also amazed some say there are “twists” in this book. I would say there are certain “revelations” in the book, but to call something a “twist” in the 21st century, it must be something completely shocking like another universe opening up or aliens landing, which was simply not the case with this book.


    • Yes, I didn’t believe they’d have involved Frances in their lives so easily either – the whole dynamics of the realtionship between the three of them never convinced me. It was a pity – the actual prose was good and she started off creating a good atmosphere but it never achieved its potential – sometimes a gothic house isn’t enough! And the supernatural stuff just didn’t work, as if she hadn’t quite decided what she was trying to do with it…

      Liked by 1 person

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