The Lie of the Land


61Yu+TVTqgL._SY346_Quentin and Lottie both lose their prestigious London jobs in the recession whilst trying to divorce each other, adding to an already impossible situation. Lottie’s solution is to rent out their large home and move to a cottage in the country near Quentin’s ageing parents – where the rent is suspiciously low – in order to consider their next move without going bankrupt. Quentin, once an acclaimed columnist is reduced to writing derogatory pieces about country life. Alexander, Lottie’s mixed-race teenage son from a previous relationship, is less than pleased about being buried in a rural idyll with poor internet connections. And instead of going to university he’s encouraged to find a job in the local pie factory. As the mystery of the low rent begins to gather pace, and as local characters become friends – or enemies – the beautiful Devonshire countryside shows its dark side.
This is not only a detailed romp through a failing relationship and the struggles of the family dynamic, its also smart-urban life versus rustic-country life, and a mesmerising study of a large cast of diverse characters; depicted through a generous slice of British society. The Polish workers in the pie factory, the sheep farming health-visitor, the rich rock star in his mansion, the cleaner with the odd, musically talented daughter, the ex-London friends. All of these characters come with their own backstories but they are skilfully threaded together by Craig to produce a fabulous murder-mystery denouement. The character development is terrific, how assumptions about people can be misleading and dangerous, how the loss of a parent can force a different point of view, how the loss of entitlements can lead to something better, richer. If I have to find any fault in this novel I’d flag-up the sometimes confusing mix of tenses through the narrative, but overall, the strength of everything else equalled sheer entertainment for me.



Long Summer Day

It’s the late nineteenth century and Paul Craddock is invalided out of the Boer War. At the same time he inherits some money from his father’s scrap-metal business. Tired of the ugly fighting he’s witnessed and the anonymous bustle of city life, he’s drawn to the sale of a large country estate in Devon. He has much to learn, but Paul promises to be a fair squire and he’s soon respected by the tenant farmers. Although Craddock has purchased something of a rural idyll there is plenty of conflict not only from the daily minutiae of running the estate but also from wider political unrest, the class divides, the rise of the suffragettes showcased by his difficult first marriage, and those in authority striving to become more liberal-minded.
The Devonshire brogue adds immediate authenticity and local characters leap from the page. By way of contrast members of the gentry, the medical profession, opposing politicians, and the church, are equally well-formed and characterised. The push and pull of such diverse relationships form the basis of a family-saga with a big scope. It’s a novel which covers a detailed period of social history rather than follows any one character – but this is what Delderfield does best. Edwardian country life; farming the land, destiny shaped by the rise and fall of ones own hand, the beauty and hardships presented by living in the countryside, the horses, the gentle pace of life. Change was – and is – inevitable, and while much of it was for the better then, I finished this book feeling we’ve lost something along the way…