Review: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

It’s a shame that my first book of 2016 has been this one because I’d hoped my reading year would get off to a better start. The Orchardist is just a little bit dull.

It started out pretty well and I was quite intrigued by the initial events of the novel. It isn’t predictable and I didn’t know what was going to happen next, but the more I read, the less I cared about what was going to happen next. I probably should have stopped at the half way point but I didn’t want to give up on my first book of the year! Instead it’s just taken me two weeks to grind all the way through to the end.

It is set in early twentieth century America, around the time of the first rail roads, and it focuses on Talmadge, a man who lives a solitary life working in his remote orchard. One day two young, and heavily pregnant, girls, Jane and Della, steal some fruit from Talmadge. Realising the situation they are in, Talmadge acts kindly and allows them to live with him for a while. I won’t bother recounting the rest of what follows in the story as it doesn’t really bear any consequence on my review. I found The Orchardist slow-moving  and definitely not plot-driven. The story encompasses at least a decade, maybe two, in time and I felt that the inevitable missing chunks of time fragmented the novel and really made it drag.

However the thing that irritated me the most was not the poor execution of the plot but the dialogue, or rather, the lack of it. There are in fact plenty of conversations in the novel but there are excessive amounts of things unsaid. I understand that this is part of what creates the ‘tragedy’ in the novel – the inability for the characters to honestly reveal the truth to each other – yet in this book I found it intensely annoying. Almost every conversation ends in silence; a question unanswered or unasked. I realise the character of Talmadge was intended to be a man of few words but this novel would have you believe that the characters (all of them, not just Talmadge!) can barely speak. What should have been a subtle device was totally cumbersome and without nuance.

There is some very lyrical writing and the characters were well defined (with the exception of their lack of dialogue which renders them all equally muted). However like the continual inability of the characters to speak to each other, the middle section of the story seemed repetitive and lacked development – I felt it could have been condensed quite a bit. It picked up a little towards the end, when there was actually some action, but then I was further disappointed by a very bland conclusion.

I don’t like giving bad reviews but I couldn’t find many good things to say about this book. Hopefully my next read will be more engaging!

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