Fic­tion Bit­ter Or­ange

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

Claire Fuller (Fig Tree, £14.99)

Set in hy­per-bu­colic Hamp­shire park­land, Lyn­tons is a near-derelict, neo-clas­si­cal man­sion re­plete, ac­cord­ing to the sales par­tic­u­lars, with ‘Or­na­men­tal Lake, Foun­tain, Parterre, Walled Kitchen Gar­den, Clas­si­cal Bridge, Orangery of Out­stand­ing De­sign, Sta­ble Block, Model Dairy, ice House, Grotto, Mau­soleum, Sundry Fol­lies inc. Obelisk, etc’. Caveat emp­tor, i add.

it’s sum­mer 1969 and dowdy Frances Jel­lico has been com­mis­sioned by the house’s ab­sen­tee Amer­i­can buyer to pre­pare a re­port on its gar­den ar­chi­tec­ture. Ob­ser­vant but blind, as­tute yet ob­tuse, Frances has spent her first four decades in claus­tro­pho­bic thrall to a mother whose death hangs heavy.

She dreams of find­ing a hith­erto un­doc­u­mented Pal­la­dian bridge and, in an­tic­i­pa­tion, vis­its the Bri­tish Mu­seum li­brary to con­sult Pevs­ner plus, nat­u­rally, ‘the rel­e­vant is­sues of Coun­try Life’. the for­mer is ‘dis­mis­sive’, the lat­ter yields ‘only a few dull pho­tographs’. As events un­fold, how­ever, noth­ing could have pre­pared her for the sit­u­a­tion she in­hab­its un­less, of course, it’s of her own cre­ation?

in­stalled in an at­tic bed­room, Frances soon dis­cov­ers that she shares Lyn­tons with Pe­ter, hand­some, close in age and charged with mak­ing an in­ven­tory of con­tents, and Cara, his be­witch­ing in­amorata. She also dis­cov­ers that she can share their pri­vacy via a ‘Ju­das hole’ in her floor, their ceil­ing.

this beau­ti­ful, bick­er­ing cou­ple in­trigue Frances and in­vade her fer­tile imag­i­na­tion. in­vi­ta­tions to share their meals, their frag­ile his­to­ries and their sin­gu­lar re­sponses to what be­comes an in­creas­ingly Gothic mi­cro­cosm per­suade her of an in­ti­macy for which she proves dan­ger­ously un­fit.

With shades of Brideshead and Man­der­ley, Claire Fuller’s at­mo­spheric third novel plays a sat­is­fy­ingly un­pre­dictable game with reader ex­pec­ta­tions. Pre­pare to be metic­u­lously un­set­tled and hor­ri­bly en­thralled. Caro­line Jack­son

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