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The Orchard on Fire [Audiobook] [Audio Cassette]

Shena MacKay , Rachel Atkins
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

January 2001
When her parents abandon their seedy Streatham pub for a tearoom in Kent, life for April changes dramatically. She is befriended by the wonderfully dangerous Ruby and by the creepy but immaculately dressed Mr Greenridge, who likes to follow her around the village.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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From Amazon

This intimate, intensely seen novel was shortlisted for the 1996 Booker Prize. Shena Mackay's six previous novels have won her critical admiration and a popular audience in England, but her work has not received due recognition in the United States yet. The Orchard on Fire is a concise, domestic novel set in the village of Stonebridge, where the parents of April Harlency have come in 1953 to run the local tea shop. April's private reveries and her entanglement with the grim family life of her best friend, Ruby Richards, fill up a vivid and dramatic year in the wonderfully distinctive life of Stonebridge. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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 terrors?some imaginary, some well founded?that 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 child?school, a Christmas pageant, the birth of April's brother?with 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.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Glorious, Heady Plunge Into Childhood Nov. 16 2000
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
In my opinion, this is Shena MacKay's best novel. In Coronation Year, Betty and Percy Harlency, with their small daughter, April, move from London to a small village in Kent called Stonebridge, to take over The Copper Kettle Tearoom. The Copper Kettle is a charming, but not financially prosperous, establishment.
When April meets the tomboyish, fiery, ginger-haired Ruby, their friendship is instantly sealed. The girls are staunch allies who conspire together in every way possible. Their secret signal is the "lone cry of the peewit;" their hideaway is a railway carriage where they are continually up to mischief. When the two girls finally manage to pry open the door of the carriage they stand and gaze "in the smell of trapped time."
It is this smell of trapped time, this nostalgia for the emotions of the past, that The Orchard on Fire conjures so expertly. MacKay is reminiscent of Proust in this extraordinarily evocative novel and we feel intimately connected to April and to her emotional life. MacKay, usually a brilliant writer, excels in The Orchard on Fire and we can hear the buzz of the insects and the bluebottles, smell the overgrown weeds and the lush summer grass and picture the family's new home at The Copper Kettle.
The small English village where April lives is a bit unconventional as are April's parents; the duo are unlikely political radicals and MacKay manages to introduce a Bohemian element into the story in the gentle, pretentious artist characters of Bobs Rix and Dittany Codrington, who is "like the Willow Fairy in Fairies of the Trees by Cicely Mary Barker."
One of the best sections of this wonderfully-written book comes when The Copper Kettle is chosen to host a weekend party for Bobs and Dittany and their artist friends.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Glorious, Heady Plunge Into Childhood Nov. 16 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In my opinion, this is Shena MacKay's best novel. In Coronation Year, Betty and Percy Harlency, with their small daughter, April, move from London to a small village in Kent called Stonebridge, to take over The Copper Kettle Tearoom. The Copper Kettle is a charming, but not financially prosperous, establishment.
When April meets the tomboyish, fiery, ginger-haired Ruby, their friendship is instantly sealed. The girls are staunch allies who conspire together in every way possible. Their secret signal is the "lone cry of the peewit;" their hideaway is a railway carriage where they are continually up to mischief. When the two girls finally manage to pry open the door of the carriage they stand and gaze "in the smell of trapped time."
It is this smell of trapped time, this nostalgia for the emotions of the past, that The Orchard on Fire conjures so expertly. MacKay is reminiscent of Proust in this extraordinarily evocative novel and we feel intimately connected to April and to her emotional life. MacKay, usually a brilliant writer, excels in The Orchard on Fire and we can hear the buzz of the insects and the bluebottles, smell the overgrown weeds and the lush summer grass and picture the family's new home at The Copper Kettle.
The small English village where April lives is a bit unconventional as are April's parents; the duo are unlikely political radicals and MacKay manages to introduce a Bohemian element into the story in the gentle, pretentious artist characters of Bobs Rix and Dittany Codrington, who is "like the Willow Fairy in Fairies of the Trees by Cicely Mary Barker."
One of the best sections of this wonderfully-written book comes when The Copper Kettle is chosen to host a weekend party for Bobs and Dittany and their artist friends. For a time, Stonebridge is awash in fairy lights and the pink glow of nostalgia.
Although some may dismiss The Orchard on Fire as overly-sentimental, it is nothing but. Child abuse plays a part is this masterfully-written story as does sexual perversion, bringing to mind scenes of Pip in Great Expectations. We become deeply immersed in April's world, and in her fears and expectations, most particularly her horror at losing a cherished Christmas present.
Although this novel tells us more of April then just her childhood, it is childhood that is most strongly evoked in all of its trouble and all of its glory. The adult April is but a shadow of the child April and we, who grew up with her, know why.
The Orchard on Fire is Shena MacKay at her finest and one of the most wonderful and atmospheric books I have ever read. It is a glorious, heady plunge into the world of childhood that will never be forgotten.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars remembrance of things past June 20 2000
By christine syers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you are a female child born in the late 50's in South London, as I was, and if you also spent your young life in Kent, as I did, you will understand the mastery of this novel. I have never read anything which recalls this time and place in such a way that can only be described as 'Proustian'. The novel, 'The Orchard On Fire'has a particular 'smell' and 'truth' I have only experienced before in the novel, 'Wise Children' by Angela Carter. Fantastic and wonderful. Bless you Shena Mackay and thank you.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Childhood revisited July 12 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The characters in this story are what makes it so successful, especially April and Ruby two eight year old girls who are a perfect match for each other. The innocence of April and Ruby's daring wildness remind me of what a childhood experience is all about. I had wished that April revealed Mr. Greenidge's advances but was relieved that he wasn't cruel, unlike Ruby's parents however, who should have been reported long before they were. The reminiscences in the last chapter were a powerful reminder of how tied we are to our pasts. It is true that we "...purchase pieces of our lives..." at rummage sales but how else do we hang on to the past and share the dreams of others?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating book about fascinating girls June 12 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Orchard on Fire is one of the most touching books I read lately. At first I was hesitant because of its rather simple language. But then I started to recognize that it is the language of the girls living in a world they do not quite understand. This contraction of experiencing life without wholly understanding what is going on is it what makes the book so exceptional. I am just looking forward to MacKays next novel.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Less is more Oct. 6 1998
By Hetty Clews (Dr.) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The power of this story is all in the telling; behind the ingenuous narrator, twelve-year-old April, the implied author stands in the beautifully realized shadows, and so orders the narrative that the reader is offered the ultimate compliment of creating his/her own perception of ultimate meaning. The characterizations, like the threads of experience, are rendered all the more powerfully convincing through economy; selective detail allows the reader's imagination full rein. I found myself deeply moved by the plight of all children under threat, whatever form the abuse may take, and comforted by the compassion of the creator. She writes like other well-loved novelists of mine, such as Penelope Lively and Anita Brookner;like them she engages me in enlightening reflection.
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