Bitter Orange (Fuller)

Bitter Orange 
Claire Fuller, 2018
Tin House Books
320 pp.

From the author of Our Endless Numbered Days and Swimming Lessons, Bitter Orange is a seductive psychological portrait, a keyhole into the dangers of longing and how far a woman might go to escape her past.

From the attic of Lyntons, a dilapidated English country mansion, Frances Jellico sees them—Cara first: dark and beautiful, then Peter: striking and serious.

The couple is spending the summer of 1969 in the rooms below hers while Frances is researching the architecture in the surrounding gardens.

But she's distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she finds a peephole that gives her access to her neighbors’ private lives.

To Frances' surprise, Cara and Peter are keen to get to know her. It is the first occasion 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 until 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.

Amid the decadence, a small crime brings on a bigger one: a crime so terrible that it will brand their lives forever. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—February 9, 1967
Where—Oxfordshire, England, UK
Education—Winchester School of Art; M.A., University of Winchester
Awards—(see below)
Currently—lives in Winchester, England

Claire Fuller is an English writer and the author of the novels Our Endless Numbered Days (2015), Swimming Lessons (2017), and Bitter Orange (2018). She  was born and raised in Oxfordshire.

In the 1980s she studied sculpture at Winchester School of Art, working mainly in wood and stone, before embarking on a marketing career. Later, she attained her Master's in creative and critical writing from the University of Winchester.

Fuller began writing fiction at the age of 40. She told a fellow writer,

Getting the words down is torture. Once they're written, I love rewriting, editing and polishing.

The polishing has paid off handsomely, winning her a number of literary prize—the Desmond Elliott Prize for her 2015 debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days; the BBC Opening Lines Short Story Competition in 2014; and the Royal Academy Short Story Award in 2016.

Fuller and her husband live in Winchester, England. Her son and a daughter are grown. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/9/2017.)

Book Reviews
English mansion? Check. Dazzling couple? Check. Yearning outsider? Now you have all the ingredients for a psychological powder keg, ready to explode during the summer of ’69 (Most Anticipated Books of Fall).

Fuller is a master of the quietly eerie; she’s excellent at creating an aura of pervasive dread—and sustaining it till the very last page (Best Books of Fall).

[B]rooding…. Fuller moves fluidly between the time of the story and a period 20 years later, when Frances is lying in a hospital and close to death. The lush setting and remarkable characters make for an immersive mystery.
Publishers Weekly

Fuller’s most mysterious novel yet, a house haunted by the stories its characters tell of their pasts and the slow unraveling of the truth. Dark and twisty and full of secrets, Bitter Orange is a satisfying page-turner …a spooky and psychological read. —Kelsey O’Rourke, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI
Library Journal

(Starred review) Fuller is a master of propulsive action, making the ground spin as each unreliable narrator takes center stage. Every measured sentence builds on itself….  [A] gripping and unsettling look at the ugly side of extreme need and the desperate measures taken in the name of love.

(Starred review) In the vein of Shirley Jackson's bone-chilling The Haunting of Hill House, Fuller's disturbing novel will entrap readers in its twisty narrative, leaving them to reckon with what is real and what is unreal. An intoxicating, unsettling masterpiece.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for BITTER ORANGE … then take off on your own:

1. Discuss Frances as a character. How would you describe her when we meet her 20 years earlier?

2. Follow-up to Question 1: Frances recalls visiting the public restrooms at King's Cross just to be shocked by the graffiti on the walls. What does this say about her? Can you point to other details that illuminate Frances's character for readers?

3. Follow-up to Questions 1 and 2: What is it about Frances's personality and her past that make her particularly vulnerable to Cara and Peter?

4. Why might the author have decided to have Frances tell us the story twenty years away from the actual events? What difference does this narrative hindsight make?

5. What do you first make of Cara and Peter? At what point does your opinion of them change as the novel progresses? Talk about the past trauma that binds the couple to one another despite the fact that Peter is married to someone else.

6. Consider Cara and Frances. How, for instance, do Cara's younger years in Ireland, and her love of Italy as an expression of escape, fit together with Frances's experience of having her own potentialities clamped down?

7. Why does Frances fear her growing attachment to the couple? What makes her so apprehensive? And how is her worry ironic—given our own understanding (as readers)?

8. In what way are all three characters unreliable narrators? Who can you believe … or to what extent?

9. Talk about the supernatural elements in the novel. What do they add to the story?

10. Bitter Orange takes place in a crumbling country estate. Talk about how the house serves as a symbol for the larger society—or even, perhaps, for Cara and Peter themselves. Consider, too, the long-ago summer heat wave and its metaphorical role in the events of the novel.

11. Does Bitter Orange provide enough suspense to keep you turning pages? Were you prepared for the ending?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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