Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

I’m a huge fan of Sarah Pinborough and when she called this novel ‘shocking, additive, dark domestic noir’ I knew I’d be in for a treat. Blood Orange is the kind of novel that glues you to your seat until you’re finished, forgetting the tea long cold or the dog that needs walking. You just want to find out what happens.

Alison is a barrister whose husband does most of the childcare and who frequently stays out late drinking too much in order to fall into the way of a colleague with whom she’s having an affair. Her husband knows their daughter’s schedule, packs her lunch, and often puts her to bed while Alison is having her shirt buttons ripped off in the heat of a drunken moment.

When she’s given her first murder case, handled by the solicitor with whom she’s having the affair, the pressures of her work/life balance begin to fall apart. Her client has admitted to stabbing her husband, but something doesn’t feel right.

As the longer hours allow room for Alison’s affair to take hold against her better wishes, not only does her marriage suffer but she starts to get abusive texts about her behaviour. Who could these be from and what risk do they pose?

I’ve already seen on social media that Alison seems to be causing debate amongst readers because not everyone finds her likeable. I would suggest this is because, at face value, she doesn’t represent the picture-perfect mother stereotype. That we are still having a conversation about this, that it is important whether a not a female character is likeable (over interesting, say) feels sad to me. People aren’t stereotypes. Mothers aren’t picture-perfect no matter how hard they work, often in many diverse ways, to do the best for their children. If we really need characters like Alison to help us think about this, then I’m all for it, but regardless of whether you like Alison or not, you still want to find out who really murdered the stabbed husband, who is sending the texts, and whether she can save her marriage and her relationship with her daughter.

The novel does look at how changes to the gender divide can affect relationships at home and at work, but the conclusion isn’t rosy. Disempowerment is a major theme for the men and women of the story.

Blood Orange is a beautiful title because it brings different scenes of desire and love together. Citrus can help to jolt the senses during auto-erotic asphyxiation (I’m not telling you any more about that – you’ll see for yourself) and Alison’s daughter cuts her finger when using a knife to peel open a blood orange; a knife Alison handed her much to her husband’s horror. So, knives, parental love and responsibility, desire and the pursuit of pleasure at the possible expense of health are all themes you can look forward to unravelling in the novel.

I’d be very surprised if someone didn’t give the novel a filmic makeover. I could picture the scenes as I read.

If you’re looking for a gripping story that explores the dark ways in which the domestic and its power struggles can fall under the sway of desire, Blood Orange is for you. Out this February, you can also come and hear Harriet Tyce read from the novel at City Writes on Tuesday 9th April at 6.30pm.

Next I’ll be reviewing Milkman by Anna Burns.