cover image Bitter Orange

Bitter Orange

Claire Fuller. Tin House (Norton, dist.), $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-947793-15-6

Fuller’s brooding latest (after Swimming Lessons) is set in one of those decaying British mansions tailor-made for a story of dysfunctional relationships. In the summer of 1969, socially awkward and anxious Frances Jellico is 39 and has been hired by an American who just bought a crumbling estate in the British countryside to survey the landscape and buildings on it. Making herself at home in a decrepit attic room, she is surprised to discover a young couple there, living in the rooms below hers, and can’t resist spying on them through a peephole that conveniently links her bathroom to theirs. Peter, handsome and welcoming, has been hired to survey the contents of the manor, though he spends more time drinking up the contents of its wine cellar. Cara, Irish and pretentious, tells Frances long, implausible stories of her life, which the credulous Frances soaks up. Frances falls in love with Peter and believes he reciprocates her feelings while ignoring the more suitable vicar of the local church. Cannily releasing clues on the way to an explosive finale, 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. Agent: David Forrer, InkWell Management. (Oct.)