I stumbled across Orchard on Fire by Shena Mackay in the Red Cross Shop earlier this week and decided to pick it up as it was only £1.35. The author's name seemed familiar, I had heard of Shena Mackay, and thought that I had read something by her, but it wasn't until I got it home that I remembered that I had read one of her very early novels, The music upstairs, which was published as a Virago Modern Classic. I'm glad I had forgotten that because I enjoyed this novel so very much more and might not have picked it up otherwise.
The Orchard on Fire is a wonderful novel describing a childhood growing up in the country in a small village in Kent in the 1950s. However, don't expect too many cosy reminiscences or feel-good factors in this book, far from it, it is a much more edgy existence that one might expect to encounter in a book about inner-city childhood.
April moves with her parents to the village of Stonebridge to open a teashop. She immediately makes friends with Ruby, the daughter of the village's publicans, and much of the story concerns Ruby and April's friendship. Brought up very differently they nonetheless become partners in crime and have a series of misadventures as they encounter the different village characters; Miss Fay, the grumpy schoolteacher, the eccentric artists Bob and Dittany, and the revolting "kindly" gentleman Mr Greenridge.
Shena Mackay I think is at her best with descriptions; and she evokes a wonderfully vivid picture of Ruby's world and life.
My only quibble with the book is that it is told from the perspective of the adult April; there is a short chapter at the beginning and the end which frames the main story as she makes a trip back to the village, but they didn't really add much to the novel, and if anything left one feeling confused as to why April wanted to revisit her childhood. While this left the end of the novel feeling a little flat, it doesn't stop me from warmly recommending it to you.
I love books, baking and my boyfriend, and love to write about the first two. I particular love "forgotten" books, books brought out of obscurity by republication and those still languishing in obscurity. I'm currently reading my way through all of the Virago Modern Classics, but taking in other books along the way.