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Anansi International

Bitter Orange

Written by Claire Fuller

Published October 09, 2018 | ISBN 9781487004682
FICTION / Literary

Cover of Bitter Orange

Regular price $18.95 CAD

320 pages
Digital Format

Also Available in Print

About this book

Bitter Orange

Claire Fuller

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. 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.


“Twenty years,” I whisper.

The memory of my first sight of Cara stirs me too: a pale long-legged sprite. I hear her shouting outside on Lynton’s carriage turn. I stopped pulling up my bathroom carpet and crossed the narrow corridor to the window in one of the empty rooms opposite mine. Below the attic windows, a lead-lined gutter edged by a stone parapet was packed with decaying leaves, and the sticks and feathers of ancient pigeon nests. Far below, Cara was standing on the fountain in front of the house. The mass of her hair was the first thing I noticed — almost solid with its dark, tight curls and centre parting, hiding all but a strip of her milk-white face. She was shouting in Italian. I didn’t know the words; the closest I have come to understanding Italian is the Latin names of plants, and even these have faded now. A test: Cedrus . . . Cedrus . . . Cedrus Libani, Cedar of Lebanon.

Three storeys below, Cara stood on the fountain, her bare feet balancing on the plump thighs of a putto. One hand gripped the robes of a stone woman as though she were trying to wrest them from her and the other held a pair of flat ballet pumps. I winced at the damage she might be doing to the already chipped and broken marble. I half-hoped that the fountain might be a Canova or one of his pupils. Cara was wearing a long crocheted dress, and I was certain even from my distance, no brassiere. The sun had nearly set on the other side of the house and her body was in shadow, but her head, where she tilted it back to look up, was vivid. I knew her already: hot-blooded and prickly, bewitching; a flowering cactus.

I thought she was shouting at me, up in my attic. I have never liked loud sounds, harsh words; I’ve always preferred the quiet of a library, and back then I couldn’t remember anyone raising their voice to me, not even my mother, although of course, things are different now. But before I could reply, although goodness knows what I would have said, the sash was raised in one of the stately rooms below mine, and a man — funny that my first sight of Peter was his hair — stuck out his head and shoulders.

“Cara,” he called to the girl on the fountain, giving me her name. “Don’t be ridiculous. Wait.” He sounded exhausted.

She shouted again, arms waving, mouth working, fingers pinching at the air, pushing her hair over her shoulder where it didn’t stay, and then jumping off the fountain into the long grass. She was always nimble, Cara. She came towards the house and went out of sight. Peter’s head vanished back inside, and I heard him running through Lynton’s empty and echoing rooms, imagined the dust rising and settling in the corners as he passed. From my window I saw him burst out of the front door onto the carriage turn just as Cara was pushing a bicycle at a trot through what was left of the gravel and simultaneously putting on her shoes. When she reached the avenue, she pulled up her and jumped on the bicycle like a circus acrobat jumping onto a moving horse, something I could never have managed then and certainly not now.

“Cara!” Peter called. “Please don’t go.”

We watched her, Peter and I, swerve around the potholes along the avenue of limes. Peddling away from us, she let go of the bicycle with one hand and stuck up two fingers in reply. It is difficult to recall the exact emotions for those early memories of Cara after everything that happened, I was probably shocked by the gesture, but I like to think that I must have also been excited by an anticipation of reinvention, of possibility, of summer.

Peter walked to the gates, eight feet tall and rusted open, and struck his palms against Lyntons 1806 coiled in the ironwork. I was puzzled by his frustration, had I witnessed the end of their relationship or a lovers’ tiff?

I guessed that Peter was about my age, ten years or so older than Cara, blondish hair flopping over his forehead, and a way of holding himself as though gravity, or the world, had got the better of him. Attractive, I thought, in a worn down way. Mother would have described him as the tiger’s eye. He shoved his hands into his jeans’ pockets and as he turned towards the house he looked straight up to my window. Without knowing why, since I had every reason to be there, I slid back into the room and ducked below the sill.

About the Author

Claire Fuller

CLAIRE FULLER was born in Oxfordshire, England, in 1967. She received a degree in sculpture from Winchester School of Art, but went on to have a long career in marketing and didn’t start writing until she was forty. Her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, won the Desmond Elliot Prize and was a finalist for the ABA Adult Debut Book of the Year Award and the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award. She has an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester and lives in Hampshire with her husband and two children.