Amanda Craig ‘The Lie of the Land’

Amanda Craig’s The Lie of The Land was last month’s book group read. I must admit, the initial premise of the novel – London-based Lottie and Quentin Bredon postponing their divorce and downsizing to Devon until the property market picks up enough for them to sell up and go their separate ways, didn’t fill me with the greatest anticipation. Craig is deliciously scathing about Quentin and Lottie’s imploding relationship and their so-called ‘poverty’. No longer able to afford their Ocado lifestyle, they are forced to step outside their bubble of privilege and move to a crumbling cottage with a low rent in the countryside. First world problems! I initially found it hard to emotionally engage with the novel because I despised everything about the main characters.

After overcoming the urge to throw the book across the room (it was a library loan, after all), I found myself seduced by Amanda Craig’s darkly comic telling of this marital meltdown, and their move to the sticks. Lottie, Quentin and their children are unaware that their new home is so cheap because it is the site of an unsolved murder, the previous inhabitant having been decapitated on the very property.

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Each member of the family faces the challenge of adjustment. Lottie and Quentin’s daughters initially struggle to settle into the local school, and having failed to secure a place at Oxbridge, Lottie’s teenage son, Xan, is forced to find a job in a local pie factory. Xan is of mixed race, and is shocked at how ‘other’ he is made to feel in this predominantly white community. It feels so different from London’s collective differences.

Craig writes the shock of transition from urbanity to a rural sensibility in a way that I could really relate to. It’s been over a decade since I headed for the rain and remoteness of West Wales from buzzing Brighton and there was definitely an adjustment period! As the novel progresses, Lottie begins to soften and settle into her new life. We see the countryside through her eyes, the drama of the changing seasons, the skies, the ever-changing hedgerows – even when the weather is harsh, it’s dramatic. Ironically, of all of family, it is Quentin who fails to find any joy in their new rural situation. Tellingly, he grew up nearby, and perhaps that explains why he can only see their move as a retrograde step.

The novel doesn’t only explore the Bredons’ downsizing experience, it also casts an eye on many of the problems faced by rural communities. Through Sally, the local health visitor we discover that many problems are in danger of going unnoticed. All those struggling with poor mental health or other problems, the desperately lonely, or those experiencing abuse might only be discovered if they come into contact with health visitors, the local GP or through school. It’s crucial that people in those roles are vigilant, and the mystery at the heart of the novel hangs on a family who have fallen through the net in plain sight.

Craig manages to squeeze so much into the novel, it’s a miracle she succeeds to convince, and yet she does. She explores motherhood, honesty versus deception in relationships, family dysfunction and abuse, the impact of contemporary politics in rural Britain, the wealth/poverty divide – the list goes on and on, but all these issues are dealt with comprehensively and sensitively. When we discover who the murderer is and what they’ve been capable of, it is deeply chilling. All the more so, because they and their actions are so believable. I can’t remember when I last read a novel with such impressive breadth, and all told with such beautiful, evocative prose. It’s a book that I not only enjoyed, but will buy for friends and family and demand they read it.

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