An NPR Best Book of the Year
A Most Anticipated Book at Time Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, Elle, BUST, HuffPost, NYLON, Southern Living, Parade, and more
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.
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.