The Lie of the Land

Country Life Every Week - - Books - Amanda Craig (Lit­tle, Brown, £16.99) Ysenda Max­tone Gra­ham

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.

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