Weidenfield & Nicholson £12.99

IoS book review: The Orchardist, By Amanda Coplin

A brooding hero, and the apples of his eye

In a secluded valley in north-west America at the turn of the 20th century, an ageing orchardist named Talmadge lovingly nurtures his trees. He's lived in harmony with the land for most of his adulthood, locked into solitude, the significant events of his life, one would think, well behind him. Then, one day when he goes to town to trade, two destitute girls steal fruit from his stall and, after he treats them with mercy (they are both heavily pregnant) they follow him home. They are sisters, Jane and Della, who have run away from abuse and servitude. In opening his small shack and his heart to them, Talmadge's life is completely disrupted.

Amanda Coplin follows the path of American epic naturalist writers such as John Steinbeck in her beautifully written debut, in the way she tracks the movement of communities and examines the relationship between people and their environment. Early in the novel, we hear how Talmadge's newly widowed mother made the long journey with her children from the silver mines of Oregon to the valley where they settled. She turned two diseased wild apple trees into a flourishing orchard, before she died when he was 12. His sister subsequently disappeared – only her bonnet was ever found – an event that further scarred him, but also left an aching space that the young runaways might fill.

His midwife friend delivers Jane of a daughter, Angeline, but Della's twins die in the womb. Soon afterwards, the girls' sadistic master, James Michaelson, arrives to reclaim them, and in the confusion that follows, Jane hangs herself. After paying Michaelson to go away, Talmadge is left with difficult, damaged Della, and the responsibility of bringing up Jane's baby.

This is a story about loss and yearning and an unusual attempt to create a family. Talmadge sets Della in his vanished sister's place in his heart. But Della always moves beyond him, untameable, unreachable. Her heart is with the herds of wild horses that the native wranglers drive down from the mountains every year to pasture near the orchard. Coplin describes in beautiful, supple prose how Della defies convention by learning to ride, and her subsequent life as a horsewoman, before her demons throw her off course once more. The author's views are fatalistic: her characters will follow the course they've been set upon. There are no chocolate-box endings here.

From big vistas, the novel's concerns narrow down to individuals. Angeline's happy upbringing represents an end to the line of damaged lives. She's loved, trained and nurtured by Talmadge, like one of his trees. She is perfectly suited to a life spent growing things, and Coplin skilfully evokes her characters' oneness with the land as she describes the grafting of new branches on to trees; the precise way apricots should be picked; the changing seasons.

Late in the book, Talmadge notices how like the orchard Angeline has become, because of "her slowness and the attitude in which she held herself – seemingly deferent, quiet". The orchard is so much a part of him that he senses in the air he breathes "something of the trees' inner life … the saturated dreams of chlorophyll and sunshine and water, gravity and roots." From brooding long over deceptively simple ingredients, Coplin has created a psychologically complex novel of considerable emotional power.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus brought her Bangerz tour to London's O2 Arena last night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams' life story will be told in a biography written by a New York Times reporter

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis