I had never heard of Blood Orange until a Facebook friend mentioned it in response to another book review that I had previously shared. Harriet Tyce’s debut novel was requested from the library and I was reading another thriller after just reading Perfect Little Children. Not usually the way I like to do things but those library holds do not allow for a reader’s predilections.
But it was a good thriller, dark and twisty turny, just as you’d expect. The book starts with an auto erotic scene involving a bookcase and a blood orange and sets the tone for the novel as it is pretty dark and seamy at times, dealing with the idea of sexual compulsion verging on masochism as well as murder, dominance of women and the need for some men to have the sole control in their relationships.
The book focuses on Alison who is a barrister in London and who is doing rather well in her career although she seems to have lost her way in her personal life. She is having an affair with Patrick, a work colleague and their assignations are varied, some passionate but some particularly brutal. Alison is married to Carl and has a daughter, Matilda and there is a sense that she is continually oscillating between being a good mother and wife and indulging in this passion that she has for Patrick. You follow her on this path which must surely lead to destruction in some way and wonder whether she will come to her senses in time to avoid it.
The narrative is told in the first person so you are always viewing things from Alison’s perspective. This can sometimes be quite hard from a reader’s standpoint as there is no escaping her actions, no leaving it to the imagination. However, despite the fact that there are times when you really wish that she would pull herself together and prioritise herself, ridding herself of negative relationships and easing off the booze to gain clarity of perspective, she does actually come across as quite a strong character. She never misses work and is good at what she does. She also treats Matilda, her little girl well when she is able to be there for her after work obligations and you do a get a sense of someone who wants to be better but just finds herself succumbing despite her best efforts.
Tyce certainly has Alison telling her story warts and all, making some of the incidences cringeworthy for me as a reader.
The novel deals with this tightrope that Alison has found herself balancing on whereby she feels her marriage to Carl is in need of help but has this attraction to Patrick which verges on destructive. Carl presents himself as the martyred stay-at-home father, who is trying to rebuild a career around his being there for Matilda. Alison is the main breadwinner.
Carl is worried about Alison’s behaviour but does not seem overly suspicious of her; his concern is Matilda and how their deteriorating relationship and Alison’s selfish behaviour affects her day-to-day life. Carl is a therapist and offers his services to a support group of men who he ministers to as well as having a suicidal patient who calls upon him for support at a moment’s notice. Generally, despite his growing practice, Carl is Matilda’s sole parent, something of which Alison is conscious and of which Carl never fails to remind her. And he is a good father to Matilda and there is the idea that he would be a good husband for Alison, if she became more engaged and less work-focused. Oh, and stopped having random compulsive and impulsive physical encounters with Patrick.
It doesn’t sound much like a thriller does it? More like an analysis of a declining relationship and a protagonist’s internal fight with the demons that drive her. It is all of that but it is tense, mainly caused by Alison’s hazy memory at times because of her drinking; Carl’s chastising of her when she is attempting to be better under the guise of protecting Matilda; the need to keep her alternative lifestyle a secret; the texts that she receives that hint that someone is watching her.
But the tension also arises from the law case that Patrick and Alison are working on involving Madeleine, a woman who has been charged with killing her husband. The unveiling of the truth about the circumstances of Madeleine’s husband’s death guide the action of the book, Alison’s personal interactions tying in with the timeline.
One thing that I did like about this book was the ending. Tyce drops little snippets throughout the narrative that suggest and entice (should that be entyce?) just enough to make you think that you know how the book is going to end; for example, could the client that Carl sees be Patrick? I toyed with this idea whilst reading the book and I would never reveal the truth here. But this is just one of many paths that Tyce leads you towards.
But I never saw the end coming and whilst I want to hint at what that might be, I would be undoing all of Tyce’s very well-plotted, well-planned work with its deviations and meanderings and I would hate to do that and spoil your enjoyment if you choose to read it.