Something nasty in the woodshed………
I have long been an admirer of Amanda Craig’s writing. It has been a long time waiting between her last novel, Hearts and Minds (2010) and this one, The Lie of The Land. Illness, not writer’s block was the culprit.
This book, like the previous, is both literary and contemporary fiction: Craig uses the novel form to examine, indeed, the lie of the land – political, social, marital, plus the deliberate double meaning of the title, dealing, as it does, with a metropolitan family, supposedly one of the ‘haves’, in the middle of marital break-up who move out of London to the West Country. Lottie, an architect, and Quentin, a journalist, both recently redundant, are forced into putting their home up to rent, to generate income, and downsize to a cheap, mysteriously rock bottom priced rented property in Devon, till the property market recovers enough to sell their very des res London home.
Like all her books, this can be read as a stand alone, but dedicated Craig readers will as ever be pleased to discover that some of her characters pass through more than one book.
Craig is a writer who deals with serious, complex issues, but has a light touch, an incisive, crafted intelligence and wit in her use of language. Hence : this lovely contrast between how Lottie sees herself and her chosen profession, compared to Quentin, and his :
Waking with fortitude, living with compromise and sleeping with stress is normal for an architect in Britain….waking with optimism, living with laxity and sleeping without self-reproach is normal for a journalist
Craig is always a writer with intelligence and wit – and also with warmth and compassion.
Although we certainly have more sympathy with Lottie than with Quentin (who has, not to put too fine a point on it, been dipping his wick) challenges inevitably come to marriages with the arrival of children, and some of the difficulties between the two stem from how parenting changes the relationship between lovers. Trapped in a terrible place in their relationship, Quentin, Lottie and their family must struggle to find a new, and very different community in the country. There is suspicion, misunderstanding but also connections between locals and the incomers. Lottie throws herself more into making good connections than Quentin.
Wrapped up in a very topical narrative of unease, especially politically, between cosmopolitan cities and more insular, but also, perhaps, more rooted in longer lasting communities, country-dwellers, is also a subplot crime thriller, which begins to come more prominently to the fore, with devastating effect.
To be honest, the dramatic denouement of this (it is probably going to be obvious who the villains of the piece are going to be) was the weakest aspect, for me, and I did not always completely believe the credibility of the arch villain. However – I have never read a book by Craig which I would not want to recommend. She always has interesting, important things to say, and says them in a most interesting, entertaining manner. Intelligent page turning, with wit and pain along the way