This is only the second Amanda Craig book I’ve read (the other being Hearts and Minds, which was one of my favourite books of 2014) but I already feel like I can count her among my all-time favourite authors.
The Lie of the Land is, at its center, about the dissolution of a marriage in modern times. Why the “modern times” part is important is not because we live in a time when a marriage can be dissolved, but because it can’t. Quentin and Lottie Bredin are well and truly done with one another. After an affair and the subsequent pain and humiliation suffered by Lottie, and Quentin’s refusal to admit fault or attempt to redeem himself, the two have no interest in trying to make it work. The difficulty arises when they sit down to discuss finances – specifically, that they have barely any money and can’t afford to divorce.
So begins an epic journey of family, of compromise, and of just plain sucking it up. Because of the housing market and the financial depression in London (which cost Lottie her job as an architect and reduced Quentin to a semi-employed freelance journalist), no one is interested in buying the couple’s house, but without the capital from its sale, they no longer have money to feed their children, let alone afford separate households. In desperation, Lottie arranges to rent out their London house and relocate the entire family to a ridiculously cheap, run-down house in a small town in Devon. No one is particularly thrilled with the move, which includes not only Quentin and Lottie, but Lottie’s teenaged son and the couple’s two young daughters.
When they arrive in their new home, they discover it’s less than ideal. It’s run-down, old-fashioned, and a little bit creepy. The countryside is equally unpleasant for the city family – slow-paced, backward and muddy. Lottie meets their new circumstances with forced positivity, and tries her best to make the most of the situation. She pushes Xan, her son, to get a job in a local factory and enrolls the girls in a local primary school – quite a good school, surprisingly. Quentin starts writing a weekly column about his experiences and escapes back to London as often as possible.
As time passes, however, the family slowly start, against their will, to settle into their new home. They find there’s much more to the countryside than meets the eye – Xan re-discovers a sense of self, the girls manage to find a few friends and join activities at their new school, and the adults manage not to kill one another.
But as they are learning to abide country life, they discover a lot they didn’t expect. Mystery, celebrity sitings, unexpected opportunities, re-connection with Quentin’s parents and an opportunity to really explore what it means to start over.
I adored this book. It’s not fast-paced, but it’s steady. I saw a bunch of the plot twists coming, but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of them. It had the elements of a psychological thriller, but much more depth than the genre typically affords. It’s a literary thriller, emphasis on literary.
What I loved most about the book, however, wasn’t the mystery, or even the overarching plot. It was how Craig managed to tackle several important, weighty themes without taking anything away from the story. In this book you will find lots of food for thought on everything from birth to race to class to immigration to celebrity to economics to urbanization to sexism to love, family and even death. And not only that, but you will find beautifully-written passages on many of them (see my quotes section below).
It might not be the best thriller I’ve read in recent years, but it is one of the better books. Everything I went into it hoping for I got, and then some. I think part of why it particularly connected with me was the stage of life I’m currently in. One of the characters is a family support worker who visits new mothers to make sure they and their babies are doing well. Her discussions of what it means to become a mother, the impact a baby has on your life and sense of self, and the drive to have a baby in the first place all resonated very strongly with this new mother. Likewise a lot of the issues faced by the central family brought up a lot of what it means to become or maintain family – the compromise, the tug-of-war between what you need and what your family needs, and the disappointments of not being able to do everything. I don’t know if a younger reader would necessarily get quite as much out of this book as I did, but I think anyone who is new to parenthood and/or struggling with the family/work/life balance will strongly relate.
The final element that made this book is the setting. I adore England, so I love reading pretty much any book set there. This book encompassed both London and the English countryside, both of which I love in equal measure. I felt like I was really there, walking along a country lane alongside fields full of sheep, listening to the birds in the trees. It made me yearn to visit (but also glad my feet were warmly tucked up under a blanket).
I don’t usually include quotes from books I read, but there were so many in here that just hit the mark, so this time I’m doing something a little bit different. Here are a few of my favourites:
Whenever the sun shines in England, it’s the most beautiful country in the world, Xan thinks. The landscape is luminous, as if every blade of grass were lit from within. the skies are a deep, lustrous blue, and for miles around, larks evaporate into the skies on a thin sizzle of song. There are foxgloves in tall spires of speckled pink, and bluebells, and daisies as big as moons sprouting so fast you can almost see them grow. The earth and air pulse with energy, the birds seem drunk with joy.
That’s the thing about babies that nobody tells you before, and that everyone tells you after: they send most women crazy. Even the ones who get an easy baby can lose themselves for weeks, months, years. The physical and mental exhaustion of it, the absence of rest, the responsibility, on top of childbirth is too much (…).
Trust is like a bowl, the easiest thing in the world to break, yet once broken its shards are sharp as knives and virtually indestructible. You could perhaps find bits of her marriage in a thousand years, just as archaeologists do pottery.
Quentin and Lottie Bredin, like many modern couples, can’t afford to divorce. Having lost their jobs in the recession, they can’t afford to go on living in London; instead, they must downsize and move their three children to a house in a remote part of Devon. Arrogant and adulterous, Quentin can’t understand why Lottie is so angry; devastated and humiliated, Lottie feels herself to have been intolerably wounded.
Mud, mice, and quarrels are one thing – but why is their rent so low? What is the mystery surrounding their unappealing new home? The beauty of the landscape is ravishing, yet it conceals a dark side involving poverty, revenge, abuse and violence which will rise up to threaten them.
Sally Verity, happily married but unhappily childless knows a different side to country life, as both a Health Visitor and a sheep farmer’s wife; and when Lottie’s innocent teenage son Xan gets a zero-hours contract at a local pie factory, he sees yet another. At the end of their year, the lives of all will be changed for ever.
A suspenseful black comedy, this is a rich, compassionate and enthralling novel in its depiction of the English countryside and the potentially lethal interplay between money and marriage.
Although it stands alone, it continues Amanda Craig’s sequence of novels featuring inter-connected characters which illuminate aspects of contemporary life. It is the work of a writer at the height of her powers. – Goodreads
Book Title: Lie of the Land
Author: Amanda Craig
Published By: Little, Brown
Released: June 15, 2017
Genre: Literary Fiction, Thriller
Date Read: July 8-12, 2017