The Orange Grove

In these challenging pandemic days, I have sought for mental escape by returning to reading old friends on my bookshelves. Many of these novels I replaced because they were falling apart after years of re-reading. I know these books well, and trust them and their stories to leave me with hope, and not despair. I have avoided new books, because I wanted to be certain they offered me the right kind of escape. So, I was delighted to read The Orange Grove and find myself not only highly entertained, but also given the right kind of escape to another place and time, and a new book friend.

I loved the television series Versailles. Reading The Orange Grove felt to me like stepping into story that could be an offshoot of Versailles. Lush, lustful, decadent, yet all drawn together by thick, twisting stems of love and passion, The Orange Grove constructs a tale set in a true hot house. A hot house where women either flourish or perish.

The Orange Grove tells a tale of one wife, five mistresses and one duke, living together in a large chateau with their respective children. Rivals for the attention and love of one man, the four older women feel threatened when the duke brings a new, young mistress into the chateau. What these women are prepared to do for survival and supremacy is the core narrative of The Orange Grove. The novel also explores the relationships between these women – most of them unhealthy relationships. The oppressive environment of the chateau is like a climbing vine of ivy around mistresses and wife alike.

Murdoch pens well-rounded, believable, and very alive characters in this story. Her rich, visual and sensory prose crafts with immense skill the confined and controlled world of the chateau and the women who live there. She paints vivid, engaging word pictures painted on the page and draws us into her story, allowing us to see, taste and feel what her people see, taste and feel. From the first to last page, I was utterly engaged in Murdoch’s storytelling.

The Orange Grove constructs a powerful and thought- provoking metaphor for patriarchy. Patriarchy driving women to murder, and madness. Wonderfully researched and told, The Orange Grove is an enthralling read.