“Book Review: The Orange Grove”
Reviewed by Rosa Kumar
Mistresses, romance, and mischief in 18th century France
Kate Murdoch’s The Orange Grove is an indulgent, shimmering novel that follows the lives of a spurned wife and four mistresses as they navigate the petty jealousies, passionate liaisons, and quests for self-fulfillment and love that define life at an 18th century chateau.
The omniscient novel starts off innocuous enough, quickly flipping between different perspectives of the chateau’s residents so we get a taste of what their lifestyles are like. Though we do get to know all of the mistresses, it is the Duc’s wife Charlotte, his most senior mistress Henriette, and the newest mistress Letitia, a beautiful and virginal 18-year-old, that dominate The Orange Grove.
Until Letitia joined the chateau, things were routine. Charlotte reigned supreme over the mistresses, Henriette and her daughter were comfortable and friendly with everyone, and the mistresses generally got along. Letitia’s arrival, however, immediately causes a commotion. Her beauty, youth, and charm quickly raise her up as the Duc’s favorite, and Charlotte feels constantly belittled and insulted in public by her husband.
Charlotte grows extremely vicious toward Letitia using another mistress (Céline) to carry out her dirty work. She starts with small “pranks”–but as the Duc’s affections grow colder toward Charlotte, she escalates these pranks until they start growing dangerous and very illegal. Henriette becomes another target as well after defending Letitia, and the chateau becomes a clandestine warzone between the mistresses where the majority of battles are being fought in secret.
The Orange Grove is a visual, glittering novel filled with beautiful descriptions and a complex plot despite the length of the book. There are no straightforward characters, especially when we get to see what propels them to committing certain acts or saying hurtful things. The omniscient perspective creates a very grey morality so readers can sympathize with every woman, even if some are more malicious than others (think summoning the devil to hurt a competing mistress vs. getting a little heavy with attitude).
At times the mistresses are ruthlessly competitive, and though their feelings for the Duc are cool, despite the ardent devotion they pretend to feel for him when he’s there, it is more status and comfort that these women seek in a society and time that cannot accommodate them; I can only imagine what these five women would be like in a 21st century corporate environment!
The Orange Grove is a fast-paced, saucy novel full of intrigue perfect for any lover of historical romance, but I would like to emphasize that romance is not the defining characteristic of this book; instead, the relationships that the mistresses all have with one another and their society is the most significant plot-driver. Transport yourself away from the current problems of the world to a time of French aristocracy, court intrigue, and passionate family dynamics.
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Paperback: 254 pages
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