Author: Tracey Chevalier
Publisher: The Borough Press
Genres: Historical Fiction
Wow, what a beautifully written book. At the Edge of the Orchard begins in 1838, and focuses on the dysfunctional Goodenough family of twelve who are trying to eke out a living on their claim in a swamp. The father of the family, James Goodenough needs to rear fifty apple trees in order to officially own his land. Life is hard, five children die and are buried. James' wife Sadie deals with her meagre existence by turning to applejack, a kind of strong alcohol made from apples. The five children that are left have hard lives and needless to say I got very emotionally invested in the Goodenough family, particularly the two youngest children Martha and Robert.What happens when you can’t run any further from your past?
Ohio, 1838. James and Sadie Goodenough have settled in the Black Swamp, planting apple trees to claim the land as their own. Life is harsh in the swamp, and as fever picks off their children, husband and wife take solace in separate comforts. James patiently grows his sweet-tasting ‘eaters’ while Sadie gets drunk on applejack made fresh from ‘spitters’. Their fighting takes its toll on all of the Goodenoughs – a battle that will resonate over the years and across America.
Fifteen years later their youngest son, Robert, is drifting through Gold Rush California and 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 brutal reason he left behind everything he loved.
Abruptly through letters the narrative fast forwards eighteen years focusing on Robert as he tries to make a living west in California whilst also trying to forget his past. Slowly what happened to his family in the past is revealed. The whole book fascinated me from start to finish and I just could not stop reading. Trees are the pervasive theme in this book and are woven into the story beautifully. I learned a bunch of things about trees and I couldn't stop googling all the different kinds that were mentioned in the book. Robert is trying to escape his past, his roots and he truly finds out the truth of the saying 'the apple doesn't fall far from the tree'.
There are plenty of revelations and a whole cast of very colourful characters. Life for Robert and his family was hard resulting in much of the book seeming bleak and depressing, but there is an underlying glimmer of hope throughout. I loved the ending so much and I found the whole book to be so wonderfully poignant. It was brilliant.