What is it about?
Robert Goodenough had a turbulent and short childhood; an alcoholic mother, a plethora of dead siblings claimed by swamp fever, and a father with an ultimately fatal obsession with apple trees. Fast forward twenty years to 1858, and Robert is living a nomadic life, floating from job to job across America until he stumbles across William Lobb; a tree collector. From there he stops running from what he left behind and starts finding – trees, friends, and even a family.
Is it any good?
Like Chevalier’s last book (The Last Runaway) At the Edge of the Orchard is set in 1850s America – and it really seems that Chevalier has found her niche! The cast of characters is large and yet each is perfectly formed, memorable and balanced. This book feels like a little bit of an experiment – the story of Robert’s childhood and adult life are intertwined, and it’s told all in the third person, apart from the snippets narrated by Sadie, Robert’s mother, and large chunks of the bridging between the two time periods are filled in with letters between Robert and his sister, Martha. This structure makes for an interesting texture that keeps the novel fresh. Parts of the novel seem overdramatic, but this is balanced out with the quaintness of Robert’s tree collecting – whilst the story isn’t the strongest, Chevalier’s magical writing more than makes up for it. Overall, At the Edge of the Orchard is an easy, comforting read but with bursts of spice dispersed – like seeds – throughout.
How long did it take to read: three days
For fans of: Gardener’s World, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper, Little House on the Prairie
This book tastes like: crackers with marmalade