My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller is a curious case study of a woman named Frances Jellico, masquerading as a fictitious memoir laced with escapism, voyeurism, narcissism, and eroticism, all glowing in the radiant color orange smothered by the shadow of forced guilt, self-loathing, and disorientation. Frances’s narrative is, however, far from being namby-pamby, importuning the reader with her litany of her woeful life. Rather, it is her remonstration of her failed dreams, rejected desires, and unfulfilled purposes with the world she believes has always turned its back against her in the most callous way. Her only revenge for the betraying world is her death, which bestows upon her the kind of liberty she wanted to purchase in one hot summer in an idyllic English suburb twenty years ago. It’s a mad, bad, and sad drama of Frances through which Fuller plays the last swan song of a deeply troubled woman in emotional distress with her masterful storytelling skills.
Written in the first person narrative, the reader will directly glimpse into the inner world of Frances whose days are numbered without superabundance of mawkish sentiments. In fact, it echoes Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart” in a way that exudes a momentum of gushing stream of consciousness of a narrator that feels a combination of anger and dismay, sorrow and loneliness, and illusion and paranoia. That feeling of abstract emotions becomes physical by the witchcraft of Fuller’s atmospheric descriptions of scenes and rich dialogues. Fuller does a beautifully nuanced job of capturing all the conflicting emotions that put you in trance, carrying you over to the psych of the other.
In comparison with Dora, the subject of Sigmund Freud’s case study of hysteria, Frances’s dilemma is more existential, more corporeal, and more noogenic in terms of the cause and the nature of her Uber-Angst. To diagnose Frances’s symptoms as a typical case of female hysteria commonly associated with a timid, introverted middle-aged virginal woman does a disservice to the woman who struggled to right the ship of her drifting life all alone. IT goes against the grain to dismiss France’s story as a mere dalliance with a hedonistic couple named Cara and Peter during her brief sojourn or a pitiful attempt to break free from her socially gawky, ill-fitted rotund virginal self at the expense of her naivety. France’s narrative attests a sense of disorientation of her life without a clear vista of purpose in her life due to the lingering influence of her dead gloomy, domineering, sordid mother who bound her entire being under the rigidity of religion and morality.
Subsequently, Frances suffers from noogenic neuroses, neither pathological not pathogenic of origin, but of existential distress. In other words, Frances is not a basket case, but a human derelict adrift on a sea of life, brutally defenestrated from the comforting mooring of loving relationship and social connections by her also neurotic mother who blamed her daughter for almost anything. No wonder Frances associates her rotund appearance with her weight of guilt that is in fact nothing but her delusional imago forced upon her. In this regard, France’s narrative outstrips Freud’s Dora case with far more in-depth interior monologue of the narrator endowed with high intellect, impressible curiosities for life, and unyielding desire of being connected with the world outside herself.
Fuller is a riveting writer of dialogue and scenes, all the artistry in the marks upon the page after page, wielding a pen across the pages in an expense of her boundless imagination that seems wholly realistic and ingeniously creative, producing aesthetically sensuous ambiance of the story, as if she were painting a Renaissance triptych featuring three naked adults making furiously and frantically passionate love with one another in an Arcadian English garden tinged with citrus scents of oranges, which likewise symbolize lust, desire, and passion, all flatly denied to Frances in Bitter Reality. And it is in this subtle respect of Frances’s smoldering indignation at such cruel denial of her yearnings only natural to any woman – young and old, pretty and not-so-pretty, smart and not-so-smart – that Fuller’s vivid imaginativeness and keen observation of psyche of characters manifest to the fullest extent and hold the reader’s undivided attention throughout the book with gusto and pleasure that will make you become titillatingly insatiable as you go deeper into this arresting story.