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VINE VOICEon 13 August 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
'He had one of those complicated faces that one had to consider at length to understand how emotion lay on it, to understand it at all.'

The setting is north-west America at the beginning of the twentieth century, and William Talmadge, known just as Talmadge, works alone on his remote orchard, having established it with, and then inherited it from, his mother when she passed away. His father had earlier died in a mining accident. Talmadge is `a gentle, unassuming orchardist from the mountains', and his is a peaceful, gentle and fairly solitary life, just occasional visitors like Clee the native American wrangler, and a friend in the town, the midwife and herbalist Caroline Middey, but one day this all changes when two young pregnant girls are seen in the town, stealing his fruit when he is at the market, and then he finds them hiding on his land. He is a kind man, and wants to help them and shield them, realising they are rather wild, in trouble and have been treated harshly in their lives thus far. His sister Elsbeth disappeared some years before and he still feels her absence deeply; 'Talmadge was stuck in grief he only partially acknowledged...the festering issue was Elsbeth's disappearance, which his mind could not accept, could not swallow; and so he suffered always and abstractedly...'

The two girls, Jane and Della, have evidently been ill-treated in their life prior to meeting Talmadge; the men they had been with 'had taught them both that you could read nothing definitive in a man's face, even if he appeared kind. Kind could turn on its head instantly; could throttle you, or hit you across the face with the back of a hand.'

Talmadge's life is never really quite the same again once he has let the girls into it. With them comes trouble, but also a fatherly affection and concern that drives him to new lengths; before his trees and the produce was all that he nurtured. For him there is the contrast of `the happiness of company, the anxiety of interrupted solitude.'

I admit that when I started reading this novel, I was interested but not initially gripped. It is written in a very particular style, with an omniscient narrator recounting the story. The writing is gentle and suits the pace and tone of the story. Once I was beyond about 150 pages though, I found I was really involved with the tale and there was no question that I would put it down then; it grew into an absorbing story and the characters wove their way into my thoughts and touched my heart. Though it is a quiet book in many ways, it contains some shocking, painful and dramatic events. The story spans many years and becomes rather epic in scale.

This is a moving, thoughtful and rather haunting novel. Amanda Coplin tackles some fundamental themes about life in this book, about humans and our purpose. At one stage Della, one of the girls, now older, asks herself `Why are we born?...What does it mean to be born? To die?'

Through the story the author comments on the intrusion of the modern world, observing the changes in travel and work, from the wagon to the train and from small to large-scale distribution of the fruit, which seems strange to Talmadge and which he tries to resist.

I'm not sure if my words have done this book justice or conveyed well enough how I felt about it. I will just finish by saying I deeply admired the storytelling, the nuances and the observations on the fragility of life, the details of the landscape and the orchard, and the attempted, well-intentioned heroics of one man who can't save everyone. I grew more and more entranced by the tale as it went on, and looking back I am very glad to have read it.

4.5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 13 March 2016
I really do read a lot of books. Good books, bad books, fiction, non-fiction, genre, new, old, prose , poetry (a bit), long, short, allsorts. But I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a book as much as "The Orchardist", a novel set in the American West at the turn of the last century.

Why is this book so enjoyable ? Well, any summary of its story will make it sound very depressing, it has a relatively small scope and cast of characters and is quite slow paced. But the plot is very strong, unpredictable and engaging. As early as page 31, when heroically stoic fruit grower Talmadge journeys to see the evil Michaelson the reader can see the author will unfold events that hold interest and advance the storyline as well as logically fitting with earlier events.

The characters are mainly revealed through their actions, there is little or no authorial comment explaining the characters, their internal thoughts are also generally a closed book, or, when reported, reveal little self awareness. This all feels very real and certainly makes the reader make their own decision about the characters.

Amanda Coplin tells her story "straight" there are few stylistic tricks to distract, it is played out in full, all the main characters' ultimate fates are more or less revealed. What a different ending, what a different story (and how much more uplifting) if Coplin had stopped with the scene where Della opens Angelene's present (p 346), but I guess this would have been less complete than the ending given, which is thematically and logically the right place to stop.

Like any simple seeming tale, this one is full of possible meanings, with the Old West turning into the Modern World as the Orchardist and his family play out their tragic story. Family issues,how to live your life and even good and evil themselves are all examined.

I will just have to forgive Coplin's lack of speech marks to represent direct speech, a very modern "innovation" which I really dislike. Apart from this, Idon't have anything negative to say about this thoughtful and engrossing novel.
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VINE VOICEon 22 January 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Sometimes a new novel comes along by a début novelist that knocks one's socks off with its maturity and vision. The Orchardist is such a novel. Set in the early twentieth century in the North West United States, it tells the story of Talmadge and how a simple act of kindness brings both enduring tragedy and love into his lonely life. It was his pioneering mother who brought him and his sister through the mountains from Oregon to turn a few stunted trees in Washington State into acres of profitable orchards. In this novel, it is both the land and human experience that makes people what they are - nature and nurture, as it were. After his mother dies, Talmadge's younger sister sets out one day to collect herbs and never returns. The mystery of her disappearance is never solved. It is this loss that makes Talmadge what he is - a deep and private, silent man, simple in needs but complicated too and with a huge heart. When two young girls, Della and Jane both of them pregnant and escaping both sexual and physical abuse, end up on his land, he cannot help but become involved. When violence and fear destroy what he has tried to create, the fallout lasts for years. Talmadge is a man of few words but his desire to do what is right leads to more and more bad things. Except one - Angelene, Jane's orphaned daughter and Della's niece, who Talmadge brings up as his daughter. This is a long book covering decades and I have no desire to spoil the plot but it is Shakespearian in scope; the way the wheel of fortune inexorably turns as a result of what a person does or fails to do.

The Orchardist is not a 'quick' read. Some people might see it as too slow and too long and I must admit about half way through I had a fleeting sense of impatience but then I realised it needs to be read slowly, savouring every word. The descriptions of the landscape, the seasons, the cycle of natural growth, are superb. The characters are all real in their mistakes, imperfections and failures of communication but they are of the land and the life around them. It is ironic that the one person who understands is Clee, who cannot speak. I found, like him my own reading pace slowing to the natural rhythms of the earth and the forward progress of history.

I have only scratched the surface of what this novel is about. (The horse wranglers who appear in the orchards every year without fail are vital to the plot and atmosphere. The scene in which a horse is tamed says much about the lives of the people. No horse whisperers here.) This review makes it sound like a depressing novel. But it's not. Like all great tragedies, I was left with a feeling of sadness but also of redemption. (Aristotle called it catharsis.) Talmadge may not have been able to save Jane or Della or right all the wrongs but Angelene remains, a testament to goodness and love. I've made it sound sentimental. It's not.

The ink has barely dried on the pages of this novel but I foretell a stellar future for it and its author. I see it as a Pulitzer prize-winner, an Oscar-winning movie and a place on the school curriculum. Yes, it's that good.
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 January 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I've been totally engrossed in this utterly charming and heartbreakingly sad story for the last few days. It was my first read of 2013 and I'll be very surprised if it doesn't make it into my top 3 of the year.

The book is set in late 19th/early 20th century America in the area around Washington state and is the story of William Talmadge who, having lost his father, mother and sister in fairly quick succession, has made a comfortable if sometimes lonely life for himself as a fruit farmer, amassing quite a large and successful estate but preferring to sell his wares at the local market rather than go into partnership with big business. His best friend (and my favourite character after Talmadge) is the town herbalist and midwife Caroline Middey - always referred to by her full name, never just Caroline, she's a very frank and down-to-earth woman who isn`t afraid to tell it like it is. He also forms a quiet and lasting friendship with the group of itinerant Native Americans who arrive on his land every year to help harvest the fruit.

When two young, heavily pregnant girls are spotted stealing apples from his market stall stealing apples, and later appear on his land foraging for food, Talmadge feels a need to rescue and look after them; all the more so when he uncovers their shockingly brutal background. He gradually earns their trust and for a while they live harmoniously alongside each other, but it's not long before dark forces from the girls' past return to wreak havoc and set in motion a tragic series of events.

The story unfolds over the next 20 years or so as Talmadge struggles to hold his makeshift family together. At times it's quirky and whimsical, and at others desperately sad. It might be a bit too sedate and understated for some, but the vivid imagery used to describe the harsh rugged landscape, together with the beautifully observed interactions between these reserved and damaged people, really moved me. The ending is hugely poignant and I was really sorry to reach the final page.

Amanda Coplin's astonishingly accomplished debut novel has taken the American publishing industry by storm and I'm sure it will do the same over here. Despite its size (the large paperback edition runs to 426 pages) I read it over a couple of days as I kept making excuses to get back to it. What a great start to my reading year.
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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.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 March 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
What an impressive novel - it really is no wonder this wonderful book was subject to US bidding wars, and I'm sure we'll be seeing it on all the awards nomination lists as the year progresses. This is the story of Talmadge, whose mother takes him and his sister on a trek from Oregon to Washington State after his father dies in a mining accident. He then loses both his mother and sister - the latter under mysterious circumstances that affect him deeply - but continues to turn the few fruit trees he starts with into a thriving fruit orchard, vividly described. He has minimal interaction with people - a faithful friend in Caroline Middey the local herbalist and midwife, and a group of itinerant Native American horse traders who help with the harvest. He resists selling his fruit through the large suppliers, and weekly sets up his stall outside the trading post to sell to the local people. There he encounters Jane and Della, two young pregnant girls running away from their abusive home, who first steal apples off his stall then follow him home.

And that sets Talmadge's life on a totally new course - and it's quite a story, beautifully told. This is a book that rewards careful reading, the prose is beautiful, very slow moving and organic, but hypnotic to read, emotional and moving, and unlike anything I've read before. It might sound claustrophobic and depressing, but it really isn't - the main characters are drawn in great emotional detail and depth, and this is a story about human endeavour, endurance and their quest for justice that mesmerises throughout, and left me emotionally uplifted. Others have called it Shakespearean in its scale and theme, and I really can't think of a better comparison. Don't let this one pass you by - I loved it.
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on 23 December 2017
I've no idea how long it took me to finish this novel but I managed to read several other books meanwhile - I actually lost count! - and I even forgot I was reading it for a few weeks halfway through.

Like another three star reviewer, I struggled when reviewing and especially rating this book. The prose is certainly beautiful in places, and the author is clearly an observant, intelligent woman. But it is also repetitive. It simply went on and on.

I almost gave up reading at one point but its glowing reviews forced me to continue. Ultimately, I'm glad I did - the quality of writing made it worth the effort in the end. But if I could travel back in time I doubt I'd bother buying it. I almost certainly won't read it again.

I would, however, read more from this author in future if reviews indicated a better edited book.

Three Stars
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on 9 May 2014
From the very first page of The Orchardist I knew that I would love this book. The detailed, flowing description of Talmadge sets the scene and writing that continues throughout the story.

Set in the orchard that Talmadge came to live in as a child with his widowed mother and younger sister, The Orchardist is a contraction of itself - dark yet heartening, lyrical yet stark, complicated yet straightforward. Amanda Coplin contructs a story that is simple in plot but epic in execution.

Talmadge is gentle and kind, yet inwardly complicated - his past is tragic, and he has devoted his life to the most down-to-earth of occupations, tending his orchard, but when two young women come unexpectedly into his life, his obsession with protecting and sheltering them from their own tragic past drives him to do whatever it takes to make their lives better. Della is so broken by her past, and her present, that she spends her whole life looking for something, or someone, that she cannot have.

It's been quite a while since I read a book that could hold my attention just with the writing style alone, but I was immediately drawn into the story - the cast of characters is small, but all are so intimately drawn by the end I knew them all so well it was like I was imagining the story, rather than reading it.

Any lover of historical fiction, lyrical writing will love The Orchardist, and I personally will be thinking about this story for a long, long time.
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on 27 March 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I loved this novel. Every minute of it was a pleasure. Set in Northwest America at the turn of the century it has a slow, deliberate pace reflecting Talmadge's measured pace of life in the orchard.

Talmadge lives alone on a remote orchard. His life is laid-back and unhurried moving with the seasons he tends his apples and apricots with love and care. Talmadge's life is one of routine and serenity broken only by the visit, once a year, from the native horse wranglers who move through the countryside with large groups of horses to sell at auction.

After Talmadge's father died in a mining accident his mother set off on a trek through Oregon to Washington state, with him and his sister, Elspeth. They settled in a shack and began the orchard. After the loss of both his mother and his sister (in mysterious circumstances)Talmadge tended the orchard alone sometimes seeing his friend Caroline Middey, a herbalist and midwife from the local town or Clee, a native horse wrangler.

That is until his peace is disturbed by two pregnant, almost feral, young girls who appear from nowhere and turn his life upside down. His natural kindness and gentleness mean that he cannot abandon these girls and he must open his heart and his life to the outside world for the first time. The effect is haunting, poetic and unforgettable. The Orchardist is a beautiful novel and amazingly accomplished for a first novel.
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on 27 January 2017
Wonderfully and carefully written book about the life of a gentle fruit farmer, whose life unwittingly intertwines with a great deal of tragedy. Which he faces with great courage and integrity, masculinity at its best. It's also a book about the beauty, but also the limits, of unconditional love and friendship. Definitely five star in many dimensions, but only gave it four stars because the pace dropped and plot start to ramble in the second half. But patient reader will be rewarded by its brilliant evocation of complex lives lived with intensity and steadfastness. Historical context of rural life in Washington state in early 1900s richly evoked. Profound evocation of interface of people and natural environment.
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