I recently interviewed Australian author Kate Murdoch (see the interview here) about her latest novel which explores the dynamics of an aristocratic French family in 1705. The gorgeous cover was enough to draw me to this book, as well as my previous reading of Kate’s work (see my review of The Stone Circle here). I’m so glad that I have now managed to grab a copy and read it. Very fortunately for me, I ordered it from a bookshop online and they sent me a signed copy, so now this beautiful book is doubly precious. Here’s my review – I highly recommend this.
A fascinating and absorbing detour into 18th century France, The Orange Grove effortlessly recreates the sumptuous world of the French aristocracy while never forgetting the struggles of the underclasses who served them.
Concentrating on household rivalries within the family of the Duc d’Amboise, the story revolves around the introduction of a new, beautiful, young mistress to the chateau. The Duchesse and the existing mistresses deal with the Duc’s obsession in various ways, all quite destructive to the previous harmony of the household.
With beautiful attention to detail (the fashions! the food! the furniture!), the novel also touches on the harsh realities of life at the turn of the 18th century. The women have the barest barrier between themselves and the hardships of poverty and disgrace – a simple fall from the Duc’s favour could see any one of them sent from the chateau to take up one of the few roles left to them – seamstress, prostitute, destitute wife of a gambler. Meanwhile, inside the chateau, it is the Duchesse’s disfavour that becomes ever more difficult to avoid.
Secrets, superstitions and scandals run riot. Visits to Versailles are fraught with danger. Duels are fought, futures are predicted, children are hidden, mistresses are dismissed, Black Masses are held. I just had to keep turning the pages.
My favourite character is Henriette, the central figure, who has an admirable courage and nobility of spirit, and her piety is quite in keeping with the times. I really like the way that author Kate Murdoch never solves all the problems – life remains complex and challenging, and decisions have real consequences.
It’s no surprise that The Orange Grove was a semi-finalist in the Chaucer Awards.
This novel bring the story to life as if we are entering a painting of the 1700s. For readers of authentic and accessible historical drama.