James and Sadie Goodenough have settled in the Black Swamp, planting apple trees to claim the land as their own. Life there is harsh, and as swamp fever picks off their children, husband and wife take solace in separate comforts. James patiently fowns his sweet-tasting 'eaters' while Sadie gets drunk on applejack made fresh from 'spitters'. This fight over apples takes its toll on all of the Goodenoughs - a battle that will resonate over the years and all the way across America.
Fifteen years later their youngest son, Robert, is drifting through Goldrush California. Haunted by the broken family he fled years earlier, memories stick to him where mud once did. When he finds steady work for a plant collector, peace seems finally to be within reach. But the past is never really past, and one day Robert is forced to confront the reasons he left behind everything he loved.
At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier is published in hardback on 8 March 2016, by The Borough Press and is the author's eighth book. The paperback edition will be released in October.
In April, Reader, I Married Him is published, an anthology Tracy Chevalier has edited in celebration of Charlotte Bronte's bicentenary. The collection contains short stories by over 21 of the finest women writing today. Contributors include Lionel Shriver, Sarah Hall, Helen Dunmore, Salley Vickers and Tessa Hadley, who all use Jane Eyre's famous words as a springboard for their own flights of imagination in a wide variety of tones and approaches.
I was honoured to be asked to take part in the Blog Tour for At The Edge of the Orchard and welcome everyone here today, for the first stop of the tour. I am a huge fan of Tracy Chevalier and have read all of her previous novels, I've been very excited about this one since I heard about it late last year.
What fascinates me most about Tracy Chevalier and her writing is the fact that in every one of her books I've been introduced to a subject, or a place that I knew nothing about before. Whether is is Mary Anning, discovering fossils on the beach in the early 1800s (Remarkable Creatures, 2010), or Griet the young Dutch girl who became the model for the artist Vermeer (Girl With A Pearl Earring, 2001), this author's writing always captivates me. She totally immerses her readers into the time and the places of her stories, and she has done it once again in At The Edge of the Orchard.
The Goodenough family have moved to the Black Swamp, with the hope that they can establish an orchard of apples. If they can nuture enough trees to satisfy the authorities, then they can claim the land, and James Goodenough's legacy will remain.
The Black Swamp is a harsh and brutal place to raise a family for any couple, but for the ill-matched James and Sadie is is proving almost impossible. Tracy Chevalier's description of life in this alternately frozen, or boiling hot environment pulls no punches. Swamp Fever is rife and it is heartbreaking to hear James describe how he digs some graves before the undergrowth becomes too dense, for the children that he know will not make it through the season. Five of the Goodenough children have already died, it seems inevitable that those won't be the last.
James and Sadie are not good parents. James is stern and quick with his fists, he struggles with his inner thoughts, he knows that he feels affection for his children, especially Robert, but is unable to show kindness or love. Sadie is a drunk who is determined that James will plant more 'spitters' than 'eaters', she longs for the escape that a bottle of applejack brings, and constantly taunts her husband, and is cruel to her children.
The story is told via James and Sadie's voices, and these voices are colourful and vibrant. Tracy Chevalier's impeccable research echoes throughout this quite brilliant, evocative and enriching story.
The story moves forward fifteen years to California, where Robert Goodenough is travelling, trying his hand at different things, making a living, but always remembering his family back at the Black Swamp. The heartbreaking series of letters that Robert sends back home, every New Year's Day are exquisite in their simplicity, but also so very moving and there is a whole story written between the lines.
From the intricacies of apple growing, tree grafting and harvesting, to the collection of plants and seedlings in the American forests, and the shipping of these to the UK, At The Edge of the Orchard educates and thrills. Subjects that could easily be dry and of no interest suddenly become as fascinating as anything that I've ever read about, and the trees and plants are such an important part of this story, there are times that they seem like characters themselves.
A unique and compelling story that looks at broken family, and the ties that bind them coupled with fine historical detail with descriptions of new towns and brutal lives that are vividly and quite brilliantly portrayed. I was loathe to put this novel down for even one minute, and was so sad to turn the final page. I'd love to imagine that Tracy Chevalier may take up this story once again some day, so that the reader could follow Robert and his family on their journeys.
At The Edge of the Orchard is brutal yet tender, educational and evocative. Tracy Chevalier is a first-class author and this is quite possibly, her best novel yet.
Huge thank toThe Borough Press who sent my copy for review
Tracy Chevalier is the author of seven previous novels, including the international bestseller Girl With A Pearl Earring. Renowned for her rich evocations of periods past, Girl With A Pearl Earring was her second novel and in 2004 was made into a film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson. To date it has sold 5 million copies globally. Her other titles include The Last Runaway, Remarkable Creatures, Burning Bright, The Lady and the Unicorn, Falling Angels and The Virgin Blue.
To read more about Tracy Chevalier and her titles, visit her website www.tchevalier.com
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