Claire Fuller’s novel Bitter Orange follows thirty-nine-year-old Frances Jellico as she enters a dilapidated English estate in the year 1969 and is welcomed into the company of young couple, Cara and Peter. All three of them have been sent there to gather information about the mansion’s contents, its gardens and architecture. This is a particularly exciting time for Frances as her only friend and companion thus far in her life has been her dying mother.
Frances is delighted at the prospect of having made friends, but her presence creates tension in Peter and Cara’s relationship as stories of the past are revealed and become muddled and foggy as they are explored once again. Frances is able to gain further insights through a portal in her bathroom floor, which she calls the “Judas hole” as it lies directly overhead the bathroom of Cara and Peter.
Fuller’s simplistic writing style is anything but dull and monotonous; her descriptions are subtle yet cut as smooth and sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel. Lines such as “now my flesh has melted away, but the skin remains and I lie in a puddle of myself” demonstrate Fuller’s ability to craft sentences that are not specific in meaning but paint a picture that each individual can see themselves in. The imagery that is repeated throughout the novel is simple and beautiful while transporting mystery and depth throughout the narrative. The use of multiple unreliable narrators inserts readers amidst the confusion that these three characters are swimming through leaving the ending hazy and subjective. The symbolism is elegant as it oozes delight and the provocative language cannot help but seduce readers to follow at Frances’s side as she looks for answers. This book at 300 and some pages is a quick and delicious read– making you want to savour the last drop of each chapter.
– Julia Cottingham