An elegantly written mystery involving a woman as interesting as plain oatmeal, Bitter Orange is one of those stories that slowly creeps up on you.
Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Historical Fiction
Published: 19th July, 2018
From the attic of a dilapidated English country house, she sees them – Cara first: dark and beautiful, clinging to a marble fountain of Cupid, and Peter, an Apollo. It is 1969 and they are spending the summer in the rooms below hers while Frances writes a report on the follies in the garden for the absent American owner. But she is distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she discovers a peephole which gives her access to her neighbors’ private lives.
To Frances’ surprise, Cara and Peter are keen to spend time with her. It is the first occasion that 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 till 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.
Well, guys, as eager I was to read this book, I almost gave up on it after reading the first four chapters. Those four, long chapters were just so overwhelming, and found myself wondering, what the hell am I doing, reading about a dull woman (whose name I kept forgetting), going on about her boring business.
So, why did I keep going? For one, the writing is gorgeous, and dreamy. Then finally Cara and Peter entered the scene, and I found them quite fascinating. Bubbly Cara with her bouncy curls, and all that yelling in Italian piqued my curiosity. Just like Frances, I kind of wondered why does a woman like that chooses to become best friends with someone so unassuming, and frankly, uninteresting. Everything she did was extremely cringe worthy. I kept cheering her on, “You can do this, lady“, alas it seemed she was utterly hopeless. But, weirder things have happened, so let’s not jump to conclusions, I told myself, maybe that’s just the sort of person Cara needs to balance her out.
The story moves on two timelines. Twenty years after that fateful summer in 1969 Frances is dying. With her failing memory, she attempts to recall the events that changed her life forever. It’s all very ominous, and I kept guessing the whole time, just what that terrible thing was. Even though I had some ideas, it wasn’t that.
Bitter Orange is a slow burning, subtle thriller, with an unreliable narrator, a compulsive liar, and other shady characters; everything moves along at an unhurried pace like a lazy summer afternoon.
At the end the story turned out to be a captivating study of a toxic friendships, loneliness, and jealousy.