Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce
★★★✰✰ 2.5 stars
Blood Orange left me feeling…not much at all. It might be because of the narrative, which is propelled by a protagonist who is the embodiment of a train-wreck, or it might be because of Tyce attempting to gross readers out trough lazily nauseating scenes, but this novel just seems to hit the one note. It focuses on three or four equally frustrating characters who behave or say things that are almost excessively—if not goofily—unpleasant.
While the elements of the story are standards of the domestic thriller, the writing offers them in a very graphic way. Combining vivid imagery with a taut prose not only does Tyce bring Alison’s experiences to life but she also gives a transfixing edge to her narrative. While reading this I felt an almost inevitable dread. Reading about Alison…it was like watching a car-crash in slow motion.
More than once I was fooled into thinking that Alison could not sink lower than what she already had…well, she showed me! For the most part of the novel Alison keeps drinking herself stupid, engages in an affair with a colleague who keeps treating her liker crap, and promises her husband that she will ‘do better‘.
For some obscure reason Alison is good at her job. She is a criminal law barrister who has just received her first murder case. This case takes is on the sideline of Alison’s narrative. The story is more concerned with Alison’s affair, her marriage, and the vulgar texts she has started receiving than her case.
Although the story tells us that Alison is good at what she does…well, I found that hard to believe. I couldn’t even really think of her as a ‘workaholic’. Most of the time she just wants an excuse to hang out with Patrick. I get that she is meant to be pathetic and spineless and just a sort…of a walking trashcan but at a certain point I started wondering just how thick can person be.
A lot of what she does is motivated by immature desires (‘I want Patrick’, ‘I want to be a good mum’, ‘I want to work on this case’ ). She thinks things in a very simple manner, and to begin with I thought that she was being ‘ironic’ but no, she actually thinks like child. Alison’s voice is so monotone. She is not a nuanced portrayal of a married woman who is cheating on her husband and drinks too much. If you are looking for a layered and believable character…look elsewhere. There is this half-hearted attempt to make her seem like she knows just how terrible her marriage is by making her identify with the case she is working on (a case in which a wife has stabbed to death her husband) but it is done in such a blatantly matter-of-fact way that I never believed that Alison possessed the awareness and or perspective to notice the strong similarities between her marriage and the one of her case.
Not much happens but I did find myself almost hypnotised by these horrible people. Alison is so passive that a lot of the time I actually hoped that someone would slap or harm her. Her solipsistic drives cause her to be in a miserable situation and I think that the epilogue tries to paint her immaturity, selfishness, and dangerous behaviour as being someone else’s fault…
Ultimately the novel fails to be dark. There are weak attempts to make the story bold ranging from description of gross things (there was an almost an excessive amount of scenes revolving around Alison stepping on ‘piss’, touching ‘shit’, getting covered in ‘puke’, cooking food that looked like ‘sick’) or having characters degrade themselves and or others.
Although Tyce’s prose could be rather compelling her characters were almost laughably dislikable and her story leads to simplistic resolution.
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