Blood Orange
Harriet Tyce
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Buy *Blood Orange* by Harriet Tyce online

Blood Orange
Harriet Tyce
Grand Central Publishing
354 pages
April 2020
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Confronted with Tyce's salacious Blood Orange, some readers may blanch at the physical and mental abuse by men and at the women who let themselves play victim, though often through no fault of their own. In her tale of drinking and alley-way sex, Tyce introduces us to hotshot London criminal barrister Alison, who as the novel opens is having an affair with her boss, Patrick. They have been assigned to work on the high-profile defense of Madeleine Smith, who was arrested following the discovery of the body of her husband, stabbed to death in his bed, Madeleine has freely admitted her guilt in the crime.

Alison is a mother with a divided heart. She loves her young daughter, Matilda, and she values her marriage to Carl--but not enough to turn away from her liaisons with Patrick. For Alison, fidelity appears to be illusory. She frolics with Patrick, but lately she senses that the affair is catching up with her. She's happy to spend her nights out drinking and dancing, tossing back tequila with Patrick and their workmates while Matilda and Carl are at home: "if only she didn't get so drunk," she thinks to herself as her head slumps into her shoulder once more in oblivion.

While Alison's struggles with the dilemmas of motherhood, family and marriage are central, also important is Tyce's take on the law--barristers in their wigs and gowns, fighting for the cause of criminal justice. Alison's work-life balance is clearly under threat, especially after she gets a series of anonymous text messages. It's a mess, but Alison can't stop the smile that spreads across her face or "the tight knot under her rib" when she thinks of sex with Patrick.

At home, there's broken glass, Matilda's picture on the floor. The photograph itself is undamaged, but she has to put up again with Carl's tone. As her hands clench, whitening her knuckles, Alison feels that she's just playing happy family with Carl. Carl himself is distracted by his therapy clients. Alison doesn't know their names, only some vague details about his new weekly group meetings for sex-addicted men. After an evening of drunken karaoke, ("Today I see a hammered woman with her bra hanging out of her dress"), Alison finally realizes how she's coming across: "I can't even keep to one drink, I can't make it home to my family as I ought to."

Alison's refusal to stop seeing Patrick and Carl's verbal threats begin a convergence of drama, the predictable outcome of infidelity which provides the meat for Tyce's compelling tale. Also essential to the narrative are the mystery behind Madeleine's guilty plea and the secrets of her teenage son, James, who perhaps knows more about his father's murder than he initially lets on. Tyce executes this story of an educated career woman well, from her obvious sexual self-indulgences to her insecurities over motherhood and her crumbling marriage. In Madeleine, Alison sees a kindred spirit of sorts. She can see the shadow of strain in Madeleine's eyes. Edwin and Madeleine had looked entirely normal, like anybody else, like Carl and her: "There's nothing to indicate that 15 years or so years later she'll end up stabbing him to death."

As Alison digs deeper into Madeleine's case, she's swept up by a wave of longing for Matilda that submerges her. But as the ferocity of that feeling ebbs away, Alison is left feeling bereft, empty of everything that is good and pure. As for her feelings for Patrick? Well, "it's complicated." Part of what makes her such a haunting, complicated character is that she must learn to face the fact that she thinks she's failed as a mother. But what about Carl, his role as a father? Alison is determined to expose his vulnerabilities. He's not as good a parent as he thinks.

From allegations of rape, Matilda going missing one afternoon in the park and Carl's threats of divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behavior to Alison's drunken benders that always seem to end in blackouts, Tyce explores the shady intersection of sex and violence and lies, a never-ending dreamscape of erotic desire that will eventually unlock the truth behind Nicole's marriage and Carl's silent war of attrition.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2020

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