Thursday, May 30, 2019

Claire Fuller, BITTER ORANGE

First off: this is NOT a tear-through-it page-turner. For one, the writing is too darn good. I found myself rereading phrases and passages because they were so evocative or so perfectly tuned to capture a character's internal state. For another, the "action" is minimal. The narrator, an elderly Frances, is immobile in bed, and she describes both her painful present and a slice of remembered past--what seemed to have the makings of an idyllic summer in the 1960s. Invited to make a study of architectural curiosities on a tumbledown English manor estate, Frances takes up residence at Lytton, which is also home to a (ostensibly married) couple who seem to be in love but clearly have a past imbued with pain. (I found myself thinking of *Sophie's Choice*.) For the first time in her nearly-40-year-old life, Frances is not merely an observer. Together, Peter, Cara and Frances share picnics and dinners and explore the manor house. But from early on, the reader senses that the three of them are going to destroy what they have. The tragedy is not writ large or explosively. But it is deeply, painfully heartbreaking, and I wasn't surprised to see other reviewers mentioning DuMaurier's *Rebecca*.