The Lie of the Land
Note the brilliant punning title of this delicious novel about a downwardly mobile family forced to move out of London by poverty brought on by pending divorce. Lottie and Quentin, still forced to live together as they can’t afford to live apart, gradually discover the truth about living in deepest Devon in a rented cottage with their three children, one of whom has failed to get his university grades and is feeling utterly lost.
A great novelist, with an extraordinary mixture of deep compassion for humanity and a witheringly satirical eye, Amanda Craig shows us the reality, through the eyes of her expertly drawn characters. Country lanes that ‘narrow like ageing arteries’; the village shop ‘a Portakabin crouched in the church carpark’; farmers who have to give up when milk starts costing less than bottled water; the banal misery of working at the local pie factory, Humbles (who make ‘Humble Pies’); the mice, the mud, the darkness, the slow broadband.
Lottie and Quentin say to their London friends ‘You should come down for a weekend’, but no one wants to. ‘Perhaps in the summer?’
Quentin is a columnist for a London paper, but his column’s word length keeps being cut down —from 1,000 words to 650 to 500. this word-chopping seems a metaphor for his general sense of being emasculated by his situation: a wife who now loathes him, a mistress on a canalboat in London who’s chucked him and countryside that he can’t bear to live in because ‘it’s full of death and smells of s***’. But the deeper beauty of the place gradually works its magic on them.
It’s rare that a novel treats all three generations well, but this one does. I loved Lottie’s mother, who keeps saying ‘Darling, I am in mint condition’ and who reminds Lottie ‘You’re not poor; you’re broke’—an important distinction. the novel also contains the most harrowing depiction of an asthma attack that I’ve ever read.