Blenheim Orchard (by Tim Pears)

Browing in a charity shop in the UK during the summer, I spotted an interesting book by Tim Pears. I remembered the name, and thought I had enjoyed the previous novel I had read by him, 'In Place of Fallen Leaves'. It wasn't until I got home and checked my review that I realised I didn't actually like it, and hadn't planned to read anything more by this author!

However, since I had bought 'Blenheim Orchard', albeit only for £1.99, I thought I might as well read it! And to start with, I was impressed.

Ezra and Sheena seem to have a happy marriage, and enjoy their family: 13-year-old Blaise, 11-year-old Hector, and their afterthought, the delightful three-year-old Louie. Blaise has some teenage stresses, and argues with her parents, but is basically a strong-minded, independent young lady, who loves her parents deeply. Hector is highly intelligent and geeky, but also - in his way - very loving.

Sheena is fiery and spirited: she runs her own business, and takes part in environmental protests, sometimes taking Blaise with her. And Ezra, who is the viewpoint character for much of the book, is delightful. He is laid-back, gentle, appreciative, and an excellent father. He takes his children's concerns seriously, and finds mutually satisfactory solutions to their problems.

Ezra has abandoned his life's work as an anthropologist to work in a bottled water company, so as to be near his family and to earn good money to support them. He has no resentment about this: no hankering to change. I really liked Ezra!

I also liked the early chapters of the book, which were written with observational skill to rival Anne Tyler (I suppose even the name Ezra is reminiscent of Tyler) although the book is planted firmly in the UK. Tim Pears describes the family minutely in everyday activities, with wry humour; the writing flowed well and I very much enjoyed it.

Having said that, the book did open with a surprisingly erotic scene between Ezra and Sheena, albeit without excessive detail. It sets the scene for rather a lot of sex in the book. As the story progresses, we see under the surface of their marriage, into past problems, anger and infidelities, and we also see growing tension as they disagree about how to deal with Blaise.

The climax, near the end of the book, is shocking but not entirely unexpected; the ending is disturbing, but again unsurprising. However it left me feeling rather unhappy - there was so much potential for a more hopeful conclusion.

It was an interesting read, which I certainly liked more than the previous book I read by this author, but I doubt if I'll be reading this again.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 21st July 2008

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