An extraordinary debut novel by Natasha Randall, exposing the seam of secrets within an American family, from beneath the plastic surfaces of their new ‘smart’ home. Love Orange charts the gentle absurdities of their lives, and the devastating consequences of casual choices.
While Hank struggles with his lack of professional success, his wife Jenny, feeling stuck and beset by an urge to do good, becomes ensnared in a dangerous correspondence with a prison inmate called John. Letter by letter, John pinches Jenny awake from the “marshmallow numbness” of her life. The children, meanwhile, unwittingly disturb the foundations of their home life with forays into the dark net and strange geological experiments.
Jenny’s bid for freedom takes a sour turn when she becomes the go-between for John and his wife, and develops an unnatural obsession for the orange glue that seals his letters…
Love Orange throws open the blinds of American life, showing a family facing up to the modern age, from the ascendancy of technology, the predicaments of masculinity, the pathologising of children, the epidemic of opioid addiction and the tyranny of the WhatsApp Gods. The first novel by the acclaimed translator is a comic cocktail, an exuberant skewering of contemporary anxieties and prejudices.
I have been having so much fun taking part in the buddy read for this book on Twitter, organised by the publisher @riverrunbooks. I pre-ordered it as it caught my eye amid the 3rd September release rush, and I am so glad I did. It has been really interesting to chat with fellow bookish folk about this novel – do make sure to catch their reviews as well, as we’re all putting them up today. This is certainly the perfect book to discuss, the only problem being that there is possibly TOO much to say!
Love Orange is startlingly different. A dark, mischievous sense of humour pervades the novel: as I read it, I had the thrilling sense that the author was revelling in wrong-footing us, hitting us with the unexpected, refusing to conform to what we might expect to happen in a conventional family-set novel. Natasha Randall’s prose is sharp-edged, witty, and at times delightfully uncomfortable. I really felt the sense of something new and exciting while reading this brilliant debut. It is also a very visual novel: the set pieces or episodes which make it so ripe for book club discussion are almost cinematic in their self-contained detail. I could see the boys in the cave on the camping trip (oh, the camping trip – that was much discussed on the buddy read!); the younger son, Luke’s, carefully organised and catalogued collection in the basement; Jenny in the kitchen of the ‘smart’ home, surrounded by appliances that seem to control her more than help her. I really felt as if I watched a lot of this book rather than read it, which is testament to the author’s skill in transferring her imagination to the page.
As for the characters, they are the core of this book. The quirks and surprises of the plot are wonderfully intriguing, but it is the Tinkleys themselves that fascinate. Hank provoked such strong reactions among our chat group – he is exasperating, infuriating, conflicted, complicated, and above all, absolutely real. We all felt so strongly, it was as if we were discussing an actual person, and not one we were very fond of! Jenny evoked more sympathy; her story is just so unexpected and borderline bizarre – I would love to know how the author came up with it! Their sons, Jesse and Luke, are the most sympathetic characters, particularly Luke – my heart ached for him watching his parents’ fumbled attempts to label him rather than just accept him for the marvellous, original boy he is. I was #TeamLuke all the way!
The themes of Love Orange are myriad: technology and its effects on our lives, religion, relationships, parenting, freedom, the prison system, masculinity, addiction… there is barely an aspect of modern life that the novel does not probe. It is an outstanding achievement for a novel to cover so much ground and yet remain cohesive and focused. There is something about Randall’s writing which feels like an evolution, a step forward, something truly modern. It is exciting and slightly dangerous, always pushing the reader out of their comfort zone, right until the very end. I absolutely cannot wait to see what she writes next. And I am very much going to miss chatting about this book, so do let me know your thoughts when you have read it (which you definitely should!)
Love Orange by Natasha Randall is out now published by riverrun, and is available to purchase here.