The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig: Something nasty in the woodshed…

Cover image There’s something irresistible about a state-of-the-nation novel, even if that nation has shifted cataclysmically since the novel was conceived. This isn’t the first book in that vein Amanda Craig has written – I remember enjoying Hearts and Minds which explored the lives of immigrants in London a few years back. Two characters from that novel take centre stage in The Lie of the Land which looks at the divisions between town and country through the clever, involving story of Lottie, furious with the philandering Quentin but too broke to divorce him.

Made redundant from her job as an architect, thanks to Britain’s post-financial crisis recession, Lottie is searching for a way out of her marriage. She and Quentin share a house in London bought long before property prices became stratospheric. She finds a Devon farmhouse with a surprisingly low rent, lets the London house and takes off with Quentin, their two young daughters and her mixed-race teenage son reluctantly in tow. The plan is to sell the house once the economy has recovered so that she and Quentin can each buy a flat. Everyone hates the countryside: the dilapidated farmhouse offends Lottie’s professional sensibilities and she misses her mother; Rosie and Stella miss their friends; Xan is bored to tears and the butt of racist remarks; Quentin uses the proceeds from his column deriding rural life to pay for a cleaner about whom the girls are distinctly suspicious and frequently takes off for London, ostensibly to cultivate his contacts but staying with his new girlfriend. As the year rolls on, each of them finds a way to cope without the glossy, sophisticated charms of London. Even Quentin occupies himself, speculating about writing the biography of their landlord, an ageing rock star who rejoices in the name Gore Tore. Alongside the Bredins’ story, another one unfolds. It seems that Home Farm’s previous tenant was murdered, a gruesome crime still unsolved.

If you’re looking for a piece of engrossing, intelligent fiction, The Lie of the Land is just the ticket. Craig handles her themes deftly, covering a multitude of issues afflicting twenty-first century British society within the framework of a rollicking good story. Her portrayal of rural poverty and deprivation, unnoticed by the tourists on whom the local economy depends, blows a hole through the much-cherished idea of the English pastoral idyll. Marriage is put under the microscope and men, even the apparently devoted, are found wanting. There’s a bright thread of humour running through the novel: Cold Comfort Farm came to mind when the grisly murder appeared on the horizon, and a few pages later Craig gives it a nod with a quote. Her characters are nicely three-dimensional, Quentin neatly dodging redemption when he tells his mother close to the end of the novel ‘without selfishness, I’ll have a life of misery and boredom’. The murder thread is satisfyingly – if a little melodramatically – resolved and the ending is a perfect fit. The book’s message was summed up for me when Lottie tells Xan ‘Maybe nobody gets what they believe should be theirs, but just getting a bit of it is worthwhile. Just a bit is more than most ever get’. A little like a modern Trollope, Craig is a vivid chronicler of the way we live now. I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

12 thoughts on “The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig: Something nasty in the woodshed…”

  1. This sounds interesting – especially the insight into the other side of Devon life. I read another Amanda Craig novel a few years ago and was disappointed, now might be the time to give her another chance!

    1. I hope you will, Kate. I haven’t enjoyed everything I’ve read by her but this one and Hearts and Minds both hit the spot: smart observation coupled with good old fashioned storytelling.

  2. I loved Hearts and Minds when I read it a few years ago – thought it was spot on, identifying issues of living in London from different perspectives, but was also disappointed with an earlier one (which I think used some of the same characters). I came into the end of a discussion about this on R4 and was intrigued – and had guessed it might be Amanda Craig before this was confirmed. Definitely TBR!

  3. I read a review of it in The Herald last weekend and it was mixed – criticised the multiple plot lines and stereotypes but the themes appeal to me so I’m going to give it a go.

    1. Well, it worked for me. A little too much melodrama at the end but other than that it’s an absorbing take on the state we’re in, or at least the state we were in when it was written. Things are moving a little fast in that respect at the moment! Hope you enjoy it, Helen.

    1. That quote is pretty much how I feel about life myself which explains the novel’s appeal to me, I guess. I’m glad you enjoyed it, too, Annabel. Xan grew up nicely, didn’t he. I’ll look out for your review.

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