The Orchard on Fire, by Shena Mackay

Late '50s: April and her parents move from town to countryside, and set up a cafe in a small town. But what could have been a glorious time with her new friend Ruby is tarnished by the attentions of the rather creepy Mr Greenridge.

Another recommendation from A Good Read and this was a really good one. The whole thing was very evocative, not just of the 1950's but of the fun and drama of childhood, which is something that simply can't be shared with grown-ups because they won't understand.

I guess nowadays Mr Greenridge would be likely to be suspected of something much worse than he gets up to in this book, where he mostly is trying just to kiss April, and get her to admit she loves him, but he's nevertheless really unpleasant. But April doesn't tell anyone about him, and her behaviour does seem quite plausible in the circumstances - will anyone believe her? What can she actually complain of?

The writing was really good, a couple of quotes I noted. When April starts her new school, having made already made friends with the wild and rebellious Ruby, who comes from the wrong side of the tracks

The first day at a new school is like a jigsaw tipped out of its box and scattered on the floor. You think you'll never be able to fit the pieces togeter. You stand on the edge of the playground noise sick with fear, tasting the fried egg with the burnt frilly edges and runny yolk, that your mother made you eat...then the girl that nobody else wants to play with claims you as her best friend. This time it was different. Ruby was waiting outside the railings..
and on a coach trip to the seaside:
The seats were blue prickly velvet and we sang 'There were ten in the bed and the little one said, roll over' and 'Ten green bottles' and 'Put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon', on board the Bluebird of happiness in the smell of boiled eggs and bananas on our way to the sea.
Re-reading that one I read the surrounding passage and it's one where April is upset about Mr Greenridge, but her sadness disappears when she's on the bus and it does seem to capture very well the way that childish emotions can sometimes be simple and innocent.

There was another section (didn't note the page number) where Ruby and April are laughing so much that they can't talk, crying with laughter, and setting each other off through the afternoon. It was lovely.

It occurs to me that this is the third book set in the 50's I've read recently, the others being Expo 58 and The Accidental Time Traveller. I think this book and the Coe book seem most plausibly to capture the atmosphere of the time, although they look at rather different sections of society. But it did make me realise how shallow the Time Traveller book is by comparison, and how good this book is at immersing you in the times and places of April's life.

I really liked this book.

Completed : 28-Nov-2013

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