Narrative Techniques in At the Edge of the Orchard
Tracy Chevalier, already well-known for The Girl with a Pearl Earring, writes a story about how the weight of the past influences men’s choices throughout their lives.
In the beginning of the 19th Century, James and Sadie Goodenough move from the safety of Connecticut to the wild Black Swamp in Ohio. The pioneers have travelled there to build a new civilization from nothing. In response to this challenge, James decides to create a new life in this inhospitable place where they have to battle dirt, mud and malaria. Thankfully, James has his apple trees and Sadie has her cider to make a living out of. They also have ten children. Among them, are Robert and Martha, the only ones who seem to understand their parents’ happiness and sorrows. Will they survive in such a hostile land?
Tracy Chevalier, already well-known for The Girl with a Pearl Earring, writes a story about how the weight of the past influences men’s choices throughout their lives. Family roots and memories play an important role. They need to be faced as that’s the only way to build a new life, leaving behind difficulties and sad memories from the past.
Chevalier stresses this topic through the use of metaphors. It can be argued that the entire novel is a metaphor for life. The descriptions of the trees and of the act of planting seeds can be seen as the strength of nature over man. Nature will endure through time whereas man will pass away.
It is important to underline the narrative structure. Chevalier is capable of intertwining three different styles of writing: through the use of tale, diary-writing and letter-writing. Actually, the novel begins in medias res with an argument scene between James and Sadie and the Narrator is not a character from the book. When this account ends and Sadie’s diary-like section starts, the narration becomes auto-diegetic, as it is from Sadie’s point of view: the reader comes to understand Sadie’s feelings regarding the events unfolding in their new home. Since chapters two and five are collections of letters, the former by Robert and the latter by Martha, the Narrator once again becomes auto-diegetic. This mixture of styles gives a sense of distance but it is also a compelling method to come in contact with the characters of the novel.
In conclusion, At the Edge of the Orchard is a book that holds your attention from the very beginning. This fluent and fascinating read will leave “seeds” in your memory that you should cultivate with affection, like James did with his sweet apple trees.
Publishing House: Viking