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Beautiful and painful
on 15 October 2012
Set in Northwest America at the turn of the last century, The Orchardist is a beautiful and haunting tale, one very different from the more typical Western, seeped in an atmosphere that feels authentic to the period, wrapped up in a deep, painful deliberation that reflects the nature of the characters and the pace of life during that time.
Part of the reason for that has to do with the choice of subject - an aging orchard owner - which takes the theme of self-sufficiency, hardship, endurance, perseverance and the search for justice and order, but approaches it from an unusual angle that touches on deeper associated feelings of loneliness, solitude, the beauty and the pain of existence, the love of life and the regret for its loss. No one is immune to such feelings, and Talmadge, the solitary orchardist in the mature years of his life, has had his share of pain, most acutely through the disappearance of his sister many years ago - but the appearance of two young feral 13 year-old pregnant runaway girls, Jane and Della, on his estate is to have an unexpected and even greater impact on his life.
The story provides one means of approaching these themes, but the writing of Amanda Coplin - her debut novel sparking a bidding war for publication rights in the USA - is the most important factor in making it so meaningful and affecting. The sentiments expressed are reminiscent of the quiet dignity of Faulkner's treatment of the connections between the human soul and the land, but Coplin's clear prose achieves much of the same impact, achieving the same kind of intimacy as well as an expansive outlook, but without the labyrinthine stylisations.
And without unnecessary exposition - the pain of loss that exists within the lives of Talmadge, Jane and Della is one that is not only related to past incidents, but is transformed by the individual personalities of each of the characters over time into something indefinable, something that forges a restless unsettlement that leads to actions that are inexplicable even to the characters themselves. These are the driving forces behind what on the surface is a simple story - time and loss, anger and despair, the beauty of existence and the pain of living with oneself - related at a slow deliberate pace, with clear precise prose and some moments of beautiful poetic observation that brings the nature of these sentiments fully to the surface, and has such a devastating impact on the reader by the end.