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Summary

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller, read by Rachel Bavidge.   

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 neighbours' 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.   

Amid the decadence of that summer, a small crime brings on a bigger one: a crime so terrible that it will brand all their lives forever.  

©2018 Claire Fuller (P)2018 Penguin Books Ltd

Critic reviews

"A twisty, thorny, darkly atmospheric page turner about loneliness and belonging" (Gabriel Tallent, author of My Absolute Darling)

"Incredibly atmospheric, vivid and intriguing. I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn't reading a forgotten classic." (Emma Healey)

What members say

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Enjoyable story line with great characters.

I really enjoyed this audible book. The setting was very atmospheric and all the characters were intriguing.
I was a bit confused when it moved around to different times and places initially, but as the story built it all made sense.
The narrator was excellent! The characters formed in my mind based on the tones and accents used.
Would recommend this book!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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a really intriguing story

I loved the descriptions, I could completely picture the characters and places. A truly unique story and twists right up to the very end.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Memorable story with an unforgetable character

This is a memorable story with an atmospheric country house setting. There's a slow intriguing build-up to a rather sudden denouement. But it is the supporting character, Caragh who steals the show - an amazing creation! Worth listening to for her alone. The narrator was good apart from giving Victor an annoying voice.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great story well told

Really enjoyed this audiobook. The plot was tense at times and played with your sympathies throughout. Great twist at the end too. Would highly recommend.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Sumptuously dark read...

This may well be my favourite book of 2018. Although I guessed the twist within minutes it never really mattered. The writer spins such a sticky, pungent and darkly indulgent tale that I wanted to read it all over again as soon as I’d finished. I adored the central character and only wish Claire Fuller could teach lesser (but better selling) authors how to truly craft an original line.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Beware a long hot summer

There are elements of this book which are great from the idea of a hedonistic hot summer being led astray to the period flavour and architectural detailing.
And although the dreamy structure of flashbacks was effective, I would have preferred a linear structure without the ‘shock’ reveal.
The narrator was pleasing on the ear until she voiced Cara, who sounded artificial. Maybe this was intentional.
Overall, an intriguing read but a bit plodding. Reminds me of Paul Torday.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Peacocks and Pevsner

Listening to Bitter Orange I could almost taste the dust as Claire Fuller brilliantly evokes the sense of finding oneself in an uneasy, decaying English country house during a long heatwave. We guess from Frances’s first arrival at Lyntons – she is large, friendless and socially clumsy – that matters may not turn out well. Her unexpected downstairs neighbours immediately fascinate her – exuberant Cara and louche Peter, two 1969 bohemians who soon appear to have shady histories. Frances’s repeated temptation to spy on them through a peep-hole into their bathroom underlines just how irresistible this lonely woman finds them. The novel cleverly makes us empathize and identify with Frances, for she has at least conscientiously read her Pevsner on the house’s treasures, unlike lax Peter. Yet somehow we doubt her account can be a balanced one.

Some scenes are pleasurably excruciating: Frances is invited to a drunken supper and turns up in a grand evening dress straining over her late mother’s antiquated foundation garments. My favourite scenes explore the house. The orangery is a place of mouldering fruitfulness, where a hidden door, leads dream-like, into a hidden delight. There is a glorious peacock decorated room where all the birds’ eyes have been scissored away. Accompanying Frances to the downstairs cellars seemed to frighten me even more than her. And her own servants’ attic room (for Cara and Peter have of course grabbed the finest apartment) has skin-crawling odours and hints of a ghostly inhabitant. Frances’s limited comprehension of her neighbours’ desperation allows for plenty of clever dramatic irony, until ultimately the reader is left to mull over the final scenes playing with fascinating questions and disturbing answers.

If the audible edition has a fault it is in the accents, which are a hard ask for any narrator. Switching between plummy and pastiche Italian for Cara grates at times. And Victor is peculiarly lugubrious.

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Wonderful

This is the second audio book I’ve listened to by this writer the other is swimming lessons and it’s just as captivating if not more so.
I was sorry to finish I will miss these characters.

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Lose yourself in this tangled web

Claire Fuller is a comparatively new writer well worth watching. This is her third novel – I wrote about her first, Our Endless Numbered Days, on 27/5/15 and Swimming Lessons, her second on 28/1/17 on my Audible review page, so I was keen to download Bitter Orange. With its uncomfortable, tense scenario where credible real lives are tinged with menace and the legacy of un-named trauma, it ensnares the listener from the start.

When Frances goes to the old manor house Lyntons in 1969 to study the history of the gardens, she finds furniture historian Peter and his possibly Italian ‘wife’ Cara already lodging there. The structure of the novel swings between place and time. At the start Frances is a frail dementia patient visited by a vicar trying to extract some kind of confession from her. From there the narrative veers between Cara’s many partially fantastical stories of her life; to Frances nursing her demanding old mother; a court room; to Frances nursing an obsessional delusional love for Peter; to Cara’s childhood in Ireland … and along many more by-ways.

As soon as we see Frances (awkward and lumpy and unloved in her mother’s old underwear) spying on Cara and Peter’s bathroom through a chink in the wall, we know that this fast developing claustrophobic and over-needy friendship between the threesome will end badly. The pleasure is in the development of the relationships which leads to the conclusion.
Fuller explores the pains of loneliness, love, dislocation and longing. It’s tremendously rich and rewarding, even if it is perhaps too fatly stuffed with themes and incidents which sometimes actually detracts from the novel’s power. The switches of time and place can be confusing, but perhaps they are clearer on the printed page.

It’s beautifully read, absolutely in tune with every ebb and flow of the narrative.

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excellent

A very thoughtful story. Quiet yet deep. Raises a lot of questions. and the narration was well suited. I found it immensely satisfying though sad