The Orchard on Fire
By Shena Mackay
Many regard this as Mackay's masterpiece. A touching, funny novel about childhood in the 1950s: friendship, village life and lost innocence.
'What made the orchard miraculous was an abandoned railway carriage, set down as if by magic, its wheels gone, anchored by long grass and nettles. Ruby and I stared at it and each other . . . dark-windowed, out of place in a thicket of thorns, it was the perfect hide-out, house, the camp of our dreams'
When April's parents move from London to rural Kent she makes her first best friend. With flame-haired, fearless Ruby, April shares secrets, dares and laughter. But Ruby has secrets of her own -bruises that she hides.
Also seeking April's friendship is old Mr Greenidge, immaculate in his linen suit, with eyes like blue glass. He follows her around the village with his beguiling dachshund, and wants to learn everything about her.
Shena Mackay was born in Edinburgh in 1944. Her writing career began when she won a prize for a poem written when she was fourteen. Two novellas, Dust Falls on Eugene Schlumberger and Toddler on the Run were published before she was twenty. Redhill Rococo won the 1987 Fawcett Prize, Dunedin won a 1994 Scottish Arts Council Book Award, The Orchard on Fire was shortlisted for the 1996 Booker Prize and, in 2003, Heligoland was shortlisted for both the Orange Prize and Whitbread Novel Award. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in Southampton.
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- Publication date:
07 Apr 2016
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An extremely beautiful and funny novel . . . The Orchard on Fire is probably Mackay's most perfect book, produced with a technical adroitness and shapeliness which one can only envy — Philip Hensher, Guardian
Shena Mackay has brought off something quite rare ... the author has set out a rite of passage which will leave few readers unaffected — Anita Brookner, Spectator
Totally authentic, agonisingly nostalgic, this poignant everyday story of Fifties folk has the power to lay bare everyone's susceptibility to the ghosts that forever teem around the scenes of our childhood — Val Hennessy, Daily Mail
Shena Mackay is a writer in prime: at the height of her powers ... Her prose is flawlessly seductive and comic, confidently witty and sensual — Julie Myerson, Independent on Sunday
An eloquent, beautifully written, unpretentious novel about a Fifties childhood . . . Mackay moved this reader to tears, not from grief but from joy. Now there's a skill — Fay Weldon, Mail on Sunday
A celebration of childhood as well as a mourning for the loss of innocence . . . a bitter-sweet, gentle novel, not given to grandstanding or preaching, but shot through with humour and compassion. Her writing brilliantly captures the spirit of the place, where every present sensation has ghostly overtones that make the experience all the more sad and lovely — Times Literary Supplement
So touched with magic, so achingly sad and funny that my breath was taken away . . . wonderful — Elizabeth Buchan, The Times