The all-seeing eye. What has it seen? Nothing as interesting as the things I saw through the judas hole at Lyntons. But of course, the difference is privacy. The other women will complain and shout about being looked at without warning. But I think it is better to know when someone is watching rather than to live your life under an invisible gaze. Claire Fuller, Bitter Orange
Is it possible to be reading and tread into psychological thriller waters without realizing such until you are immersed? Beautiful writing, rich imagery, a socially awkward woman, and a charismatic yet odd couple living in an old house with a history of its own make for an interesting plot. But the relationship dynamics of this trio were only the beginning.
Told from Frances’ perspective as an old, dying woman with a failing memory, the reader is forced early on to decide if Frances is a reliable narrator. I decided she was because while her mind was fading, memories and the recounting of them are never 100% accurate. This turned out to be a common thread throughout the story.
Frances is a 39-year-old woman who has little experience in the world. She spent most of her adult years isolated while caring for her ill mother. Throughout the book you get glimpses into their relationship and it does not appear to be a healthy one.
Set in 1969, Frances’ mother has passed away and she takes a summer job at a crumbling British home. Her task: inventory the garden architecture and report back to the new owner, an American. Initially she believes she is alone in the house. And then she discovers Peter and Cara living below her.
Peter has been hired to inventory the house belongings and Cara has traveled with him. Cara has a magnetic personality which often crosses into the outrageous. Frances begins to develop a friendship with the couple and appears to finally be experiencing the world.
Remember the judas hole? Frances finds one in her floor that looks down into Peter and Cara’s bathroom. Between her stolen observations, afternoon picnics, and alcohol fueled dinners with the couple, she becomes obsessed.
Cara has wild stories, Peter has contradictory versions, and Frances is haunted by her former life of isolation. The smartly dispersed psychological twists, sometimes only a sentence, make this book come to life. Multiple times I found myself stopping with a wait, what??
• • • •
I enjoy unreliable narrators but rarely have I seen them written as well as Fuller does in this book. Combine that with the imagery, the detailed descriptions of the house and property, the character development, and the writing style – you have a unique and well crafted story. Fuller is a very talented writer and I’m looking forward to reading her other books soon.
Because this plot shifts from present to past, there were a few times I missed the transition and had to reread to find my place in time. Or maybe that was the bourbon reading. This and a few loose ends were my only small annoyances with Bitter Orange.
Who would I recommend this book to? Anyone who enjoys a well written book with unreliable narration and great plot twists. If you enjoyed Something in the Water, Where the Crawdads Sing, or Behind Her Eyes you will most likely enjoy Bitter Orange.
• • • •
This book, about an introvert, was our Book Club for Introverts first pick. Our group is on Goodreads and is open to anyone. It was fun to read something shocking or surprising and then discuss it real-time in the chapter discussion threads. Almost like calling a friend but without the talking because, introverts.
Our book selection for December is Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty and we would love to have you join us. Look for my Instagram post soon where I’m giving away a copy of the book to two lucky book club members!