Judge a Book by Its Cover: ‘Bitter Orange’

I was thinking of ‘Bitter Orange’ long after I was done reading it. Brittany Hofmann | The Spectrum

Winter break proved itself once again to be the perfect time for me to partake in some leisurely reading — something nearly impossible to do when school is in session.

My local library’s new fiction section is the first thing I see when I get there, and “Bitter Orange” was the first book that caught my eye on the shelves. With its rich colors and absurd title, I immediately took it home and dove in.

Set in 1969 in the English countryside, strangers are brought together after being called upon by a wealthy American to take inventory of a dilapidated mansion known as Lyntons.

Frances Jellico, 39-year-old landscape architect, begins her journey at Lyntons with a renewed freedom and apprehension following the death of her cruel mother after taking care of her for years.

Frances’ low self-esteem and lack of self-awareness puts her in several awkward situations, and with author Claire Fuller’s writing, I cringed at Frances’ actions.

When she first arrives at Lyntons, her only “friend” is the vicar at the local church. He is just happy that there is someone new in town who is devoted to the church.

The story shifts between Frances’ life at Lyntons in 1969 and present day where Frances is dying and her only memories are the ones she made that summer.

While exploring her new place of residence for the summer, she finds a peephole in the floor of her bathroom that looks in on the bathroom of the floor below her.

Throughout the book, Frances disobeys her own morals time and time again. She knows full well that she should not be eavesdropping, but she can’t help herself as she has been deprived of life’s pleasures her entire life under the foot of her mother, and catching a glimpse of the sexy life of her coworkers below her excites her.

She would soon find out that the lives of her coworkers and soon friends, Cara and Peter, were not so perfect after all.

As their lives begin to weave together and as Cara and Frances grow closer together, Cara’s backstory comes into view.

As Frances listened to the secrets that Cara had been holding on to, it was clear that she was not just being friendly, but she wanted a reason to believe that she was somehow better than Cara.

Quite honestly, Frances just wanted to get close to Cara so she could be closer to Peter. The attention and affection she received from Peter was something Frances had never experienced before, and she began to fall in love as she mistook his friendliness for flirtation.

Things began to unravel when the trio discovered a room in the green house that housed all of the mansion’s former furniture. After all of their lollygagging through the summer and their lack of work, Frances begins to panic and escapes to London for a few days.

When she returns, the house is fully furnished and has a resemblance of its former glory days.

In attempt to make things right with Frances, Peter shows her how they have decorated her room. With the two of them alone together, Frances tries to make a move and Peter rejects her.

As the days wear on, things become tense between the three as Cara suspects that Frances is lusting after Peter. Cara’s adoration for Frances then turns to spite.

The vicar pays a visit to Frances at the mansion during a heated argument, and he warns Frances, saying she is too good for Lyntons.

It turns out Frances should have heeded his warning because soon after things come to a head when Frances finds Cara has locked herself and Peter in their room.

Returning to the peephole in her bathroom floor, she finds Peter still in their bathtub, the water pink. When Frances realizes what Cara has done to him, she bursts into their room only to find Cara standing at her window.

In the heart-pounding climax, Frances is too late and Cara falls to her death.

After all is said and done, the scene at Lyntons smells of foul play and Frances ultimately takes the blame and is sentenced to life in prison. In her own way, she feels that life in prison is her only way to pay her penance for all her wrongdoing in life.

Sadly, the only life she lived was the summer she spent at Lyntons.

The setting returns to her deathbed in prison where the vicar still visits her, trying to pry the truth out of her and what truly happened during the summer of 1969 at Lyntons.

“Bitter Orange” was a slow burn novel, but ultimately the action built as the story unfolded toward the end. Claire Fuller tells a gripping tale full of symbolism that leaves you wondering even after the story is over.

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