Set in the small English village of Stonebridge, "The Orchard on Fire" tells the story of eight-year-old April Harlency, who is coming of age in a place where the charm of the local landscape contrasts sharply with the prejudices and vagaries of the adult world.Set in the small English village of Stonebridge, "The Orchard on Fire" tells the story of eight-year-old April Harlency, who is coming of age in a place where the charm of the local landscape contrasts sharply with the prejudices and vagaries of the adult world.Read Less
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Publishers Weekly, 1996-08-12 It's always a puzzle when a writer as talented as Londoner Shena Mackay remains virtually unknown on these shores, but her comparative obscurity here, despite rave reviews for A Bowl of Cherries and her short-story collection, Dreams of Dead Women's Handbags, may be dispelled with the publication of this finely wrought and touching novel. Narrator April Harlency looks back at the year 1953, when she was eight years old and had just moved to Stonebridge, in Kent, where her parents became proprietors of The Copper Kettle tearoom. April speedily becomes best friends with flame-haired Ruby Richards, daughter of the publicans who run the local saloon. The girls share a passion for reading, and for their secret sanctuary, an abandoned railway car hidden in an orchard. Despite their closeness, however, April can't bring herself to talk about the sexual molestation she endures from elderly Mr. Greenridge, who seems so kind and generous that April's oblivious parents chide her when she tries to stay out of his way. Nor does Ruby talk about her own father's physical abuse. Mackay brilliantly captures a child's voice and view of the world, the unspoken misapprehensions, fears and terrorsæsome imaginary, some well foundedæthat haunt April's dreams. Her prose a marvel of precise, evocative detail and almost sensual intensity, she shadows her gently humorous depiction of the ordinary daily life of a childæschool, a Christmas pageant, the birth of April's brotheræwith the undertow of anxiety in April's mind. Ironically, while April seems the most seriously threatened by creepy Mr. Greenridge's increasingly bold advances, it is Ruby whose life undergoes a wrenching change. The ending, which involves a tombstone inscription that jolts both April and the reader, would be trite in other hands, but Mackay reworks a familiar fictional device into something poignant and true. The throb of real life among blue-collar families animates this subtle and compassionate story, as does Mackay's insight into a child's view of the world. (Oct.)
Publishers Weekly, 1997-09-29 The celebrated London novelist's portrait of a young girl coming of age in a 1950s English village is published in conjuction with a collection of 31 stories with titles like "Pink Cigarettes" and "Other People's Bathrobes." (Nov.)
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