Bitter Orange, Claire Fuller's follow-up to Swimming Lessons (2017), details the life of a woman obsessed with the young couple she lives above. It's 1969, and for the first time, Frances is leading a life independent of her mother. She's come to Lyntons, an old British country house, to study the gardens, but is distracted by Peter and Cara, who seem to be just as infatuated with her as she is with them. The three drink, eat and lounge the summer away together, but soon their relationships turn stale. Frances can tell they are lying about something, but she cannot remove herself from their gravitational pull, nor can she tell them any of her own secrets, including the peephole she uses to spy on their most intimate moments.
Atmospheric and intoxicating, Bitter Orange is a slow-burn mystery/horror novel that cannot soon be forgotten. Hot, sticky and sexy, Frances's first-person narration eroticizes even the most mundane interactions with Peter and Cara. Fuller's prose shines as she hovers over the palpable small pleasures, detailing the taste of a cigarette, a flash of bare skin. Nevertheless, she keeps sight of the novel's larger plot, which occasionally and abruptly erupts from a languid summer haze. While the premise feels familiar, it is this very familiarity that gives the book its sense of the uncanny. The reader has seen this set-up before but cannot shake the foreboding nature of the frame story as Frances reminisces from her deathbed. Exquisitely written and carefully paced, Bitter Orange imbues the dis-ease and sickening sweetness of old-fashioned literary horror with a new, modern flare. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor